Friday, November 20, 2020

2020 Top 5 Picks - Part Two

Let's continue the top five selections from the Boswellians with some wildly varying picks from Conrad, Barb, and Rose! I'll begin with Conrad. If you haven't read the bio on Conrad's staff picks page, then perhaps you don't know that he's been in booksellings since 1976, when he started at Gilman Street Bookstore in Madison, a Marxist bookstore that paid him in books rather than money. Conrad's tastes are wide, smart, and varied, and he's a great recommender for anyone who looking for a book to expand their reading horizons. More than one of his picks made our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide this year, and for good reason!

#1 on his list is The King at the Edge of the World, a new novel by Arthur Phillips. Conrad says, "For the life of me, I can't figure out why Arthur Phillips isn't a better seller. His stories are diverse, beautifully written, and engaging. His characters are fully realized and complex. He never repeats himself. This is his sixth novel, and it's simply wonderful. We follow a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and intellectually curious doctor who is forced to leave his home in one of the world's most glittering metropolises and accompany an embassy to one of the world's most depressingly squalid, backwater cities." But don't take it (only) from Conrad - from the New York Times Book Review: "Sentence by sentence, the book blends the leanness of a taut thriller with the marbled fatness of Elizabethan prose."

Conrad's #2 is the latest from David Mitchell - Utopia Avenue. He'll correct me if I'm wrong, but I do believe Conrad has read everything Mitchell's ever written. I know that since I've worked with him, every time a new Mitchell novel comes out, it quickly becomes a go-to rec when someone asks Conrad what to read. This one is set in London’s psychedelic scene in 1967 and follows the kaleidoscopic tale of the turbulent life and times of the strangest British band you’ve never heard of. 

Keeping with the musical theme, #3 is a nonfiction title: We're Not Here to Entertain: Punk Rock, Ronald Reagan, and the Real Culture War of 1980s America by Kevin Mattson.  From Conrad: "Maximum rock and roll played at warp speed with lyrics more screamed than sung took punk into a new direction, one driven by utter and total rage. To the new bands emerging in the Eighties, the first generation of punks had grown complacent: sold out making disco music (Blondie), or folded (Sex Pistols), or morphed into the very thing they had once rebelled against (bands playing in massive arenas). Punk now adopted a very self-conscious stance against the right-wing corporate power grab of the Reagan years. You want the Eighties? This is the Eighties!"

#4 - The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World - and Globalization Began by Valerie Hansen. Celebrated Yale professor Hansen offers up this groundbreaking work of history showing that bold explorations and daring trade missions connected all of the world’s great societies for the first time at the end of the first millennium. For readers of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, this book is an intellectually daring, provocative account that will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about how the modern world came to be. It will also hold up a mirror to the hopes and fears we experience today.

#5 is the latest from the internationally bestselling German author Daniel Kehlmann called Tyll. Again I'm going with what I think is true, though I may be unintentionally bending the truth (though that would be a perfectly fitting thing to do for this recommendation) when I say that Conrad remains appalled that I still haven't read this one yet. See, I was a huge fan of Kehlmann's previous release, the novella You Should Have Left, and when Conrad got his hands on this new novel before me, he read it and immediately told everyone how amazing it is. I promise, it's on the TBR pile, Conrad! And, good reader, you'll want to add this story about the devastation of war and a beguiling artist’s decision never to die to your stack, too!

Onto the next bookseller! Barb the Boswellian is the undefeated champion of handselling in the childrens section, especially when it comes to funny, touching picture books, early chapter books, and middle grade novels. Though alas she hasn't been able to be in-store this year, she's still reading like a champ. Here are her picks for the best of 2020:

#1 Agent Lion by Jacky Davis and illustrator David Soman. This wife and husband team behind the bestselling Ladybug Girl series brings us one seriously silly but determined detective. In this picture book, when Fluffy the cat goes missing, this jelly donut-loving lion detective is on the case! Meet all the zany animals, laugh out loud, and follow the twists and turns as this lion detective searches for this elusive feline. 

#2 Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming and illustrator Eric Rohmann. Take to the sky with Apis, one honeybee, as she embarks on her journey through life. The New York Times declares this is "a fascinating up-close view of the stages of a honeybee's life... The drama and suspense are positively riveting." Barb isn't the only one who lauded Honeybee - it received starred reviews from Booklist, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly, which said, "The brief but complex life of a Apis Mellifera—a worker honeybee—is explored with depth in this richly detailed picture book."

#3 Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us by Lauren Castillo. You can tell just by the cover illustration that this is going to be a Barb kind of book, though far be it of me or anyone else to just judge a book's cover without opening it up. Caldecott Honoree Castillo opens a new series of early chapter books (ages 5 - 9) with a ragtag band of woodland and meadow creatures in a story that balances small but thrilling escapades with an earnest, whimsical, often droll friendship story. This is another of the kids books this year in which the phrase "instant classic" has been tossed around by reviewers.

#4 Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes. The first of two middle grade (ages 8-12, roughly) novels on Barb's list is a coming-of-age story about two brothers, one who presents as white, the other as black, and the complex ways in which they are forced to navigate the world. Author Parker Rhodes is the author of Ghost Boys and a Coretta Scott King Honoree. This is a careful examination of the school-to-prison pipeline and follows one boy's fight against racism and his empowering path to finding his voice.

#5 On The Horizon by Lois Lowry. Barb's last selection is another book for middle grade ages (the publisher copy says 10-12) by two-time Newbery medalist and legend Lowry. This is a moving account of the lives lost in two of WWII’s most infamous events: Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. With evocative black-and-white illustrations by SCBWI Golden Kite Award winner Kenard Pak. Lowry looks back at history through a personal lens as she draws from her own memories as a child in Hawaii and Japan, as well as from historical research, in a work in verse for young readers.

Finally, we'll wrap this post up with the top five selections from Boswellian Rose. As you can see from her selections, I think it's fair to say that Rose has an interest in books focused on mindful self-improvement. Here are her picks:

#1 Untamed by Glennon Doyle. This is one that we've had a hard time keeping on our shelves off and on throughout the year due to the high demand. Of course, what else did anyone expect for the follow-up book to the Oprah's Book Club Selection Love Warrior? Speaking of book clubs, Untamed was a Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine Book Pick this year, along with being one of Rose's favorites.

#2 Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day by Jay Shetty. From the social media superstar and host of the wildly popular podcast On Purpose, this how-to offers advice and practical steps anyone can take every day to live a less anxious, more meaningful life that Shetty distilled from his time as a monk. Combining ancient wisdom and his own rich experiences in the ashram, Think Like a Monk is focused on methods for overcoming negative thoughts and habits and accessing the calm and purpose that lie within all of us.

#3 on Rose's list is The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami by Radhanath Swami - not a new book, but by Jason's top-5-ing rules Boswellians can have one or two older titles on their shelves if they just discovered them. So, Rose hopes you will discover the story of Radhanath Swami, who, at age nineteen, he traveled overland from London to India, where he lived in Himalayan caves, learned yoga from revered masters, and eventually became a world-renowned spiritual leader in his own right.

#4 Growing Old: Notes on Aging with Something like Grace by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, anthropologist and author of The Hidden Life of Dogs. This is a witty, engaging, life-affirming account of the joy, strength, and wisdom that comes with age. Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus, says "By turns hilarious, poignant, fascinating, and disturbing, every page is brutally honest. If you ever plan to grow old or know anyone else who's already there, you'll find insights here you'll see nowhere else."

And wrapping up at #5 is artist Kim Krans's Blossoms and Bones: Drawing a Life Back TogetherAfter cancelling her flight home to wellness-obsessed LA, where Krans had been secretly experiencing a debilitating eating disorder, she finds her way to an ashram and seeks spiritual and creative refuge. For forty days she relies on “drawing the feeling” as a way to realign her relationship to food, addiction, fertility, perfectionism, and the endless messaging of “never enough” echoing throughout current culture. She embarks on the healing process through intricately hand-drawn narration of both her inner and outer worlds. Radical simplification, meditation, community, and creativity bring her through the darkest chapter of her life. 

And there you have it! A selection of top fives as varied as the Boswellians themselves. Stay tuned to the Boswellians blog for more top 5 posts coming soon. And you can check out post #1, featuring the Top 5 selections of Amie and Jason, right here, too.

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