STAFF RECOMMENDATION: How to Be Both

By Julia McGehean

I am always interested in reading books by authors who have an outside-of-the-box approach to writing. The kind who radically shake up the rules in a way that pushes my understanding of what a story can be into new territory. As soon as I picked up Ali Smith’s novel How to Be Both for the first time, I was immediately struck by her intriguing ability to format a novel in a way that I had never experienced before.

Beginning on the first page, it became evident that this Man Booker Prize shortlist finalist is highly ingenuitive and eloquently executed. There is a note in the very beginning explaining that the novel is broken up into two interchangeable sections. It is then up to the audience to decide which order to read first. Half of the books are published with George’s story as the first half, while the remaining copies begin with Francesco. If you prefer a strong personal narrative, I would suggest beginning with George’s half, a spunky 16-year-old coping with the sudden death of her mother. If you enjoy a historical mystery, begin with Francesco, a bold fifteenth-century Italian fresco painter navigating the afterlife.  

As a result of the twists and turns driven by a non-linear plot design, How to Be Both is tricky to describe without spoiling the mystery and marvel of it all. Main themes that are highlighted within the dueling narratives of Smith’s novel include the timeless importance of art and the artist in society, an honest interpretation of loss including the grief that follows, as well as the open exploration of gender and sexuality. With one half of the story set mainly in contemporary England, and the other in historic Italy, the main characters are separated by hundreds of years in two seemingly disparate worlds. As the pieces slowly come together in whatever order you choose to read, it becomes evident that their lives have been so cleverly intertwined without the reader initially having any idea how or why.

How to Be Both is located in the Greenfield Library, call number PR 6069 .M4213 H69 2015.

Looking forward to your thoughts,

Julia McGehean, Greenfield Library Circulation Assistant

Staff Recommendation: Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

“Remember Drew Peterson? That cop that killed his wives? It was a big news story in 2007. I was dating Emma that summer. We used to sit in her mom’s basement and watch movies all night. We were watching a TV special about Drew Peterson one night when we leaned in and kissed each other for the first time. Now whenever I see or hear anything about Drew Peterson, I feel like I’m eighteen in Emma’s basement again. Is it weird to feel nostalgic for stuff like that?”

New to the library: Sabrina is a graphic novel written and illustrated by Nick Drnaso, published in 2018. It is the first ever graphic novel to be longlisted for The Man Booker Prize. Deep and introspective with minimalistic illustrations, Drnaso tells the story of a young woman kidnapped in Chicago, and how the events that unfold from this affect everyone connected to her. At the same time, it is also a poignant commentary on the fast-paced dissemination of information in our digital age, how this numbs us to the continuous stories of violence bombarding us on our screens, and the confusion we feel in a “fake news” world. The above quote, spoken by character Calvin Wrobel, is a perfect example of this sense of disassociation. Instead of remembering the Drew Peterson case as a horrific event where women went missing and were found murdered, Wrobel only remembers kissing his girlfriend at the time, because the television story was simply background noise. Drnaso does a beautiful job reminding us that moments of tragedy and horror aren’t background noise, and that we need to realize there are individuals behind every story.

If you’d like to check out Sabrina, it is available in the Greenfield Library, call number PN6727 .D76 S25 2018.

Recommended by Lillian Kinney, Cataloger/Archivist

Staff Recommendation: Parable of the Sower

Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower.

Greenfield Open Stacks PS3552 .U827 P37 2016

Science fiction makes us aware of our sight’s present limitations, highlighting the gap between what is and what could be. Octavia E. Butler’s sci-fi centers around survival as a result of dark radical shifts in future society. Parable of the Sower, published in 1993 but set in 2020s America, forces reflection onto its readers—especially when read in 2018.

The book is composed of journal entries by protagonist Lauren Olamina, a teenager born with hyperempathy, sharing the physical pain of others she witnesses. The world around Lauren is collapsing due to corporate greed, climate change, racism, hostile police presence, gun violence, and walls. Following the brutal loss of her family and neighborhood, she is forced to navigate an altered world on her own in an attempt to walk north from California with no true destination, excruciatingly hindered by her hyperempathy.

Lauren’s beam of hope in this dystopia is her development of a new belief system called “Earthseed.” Its ultimate mantra is to accept Change in order to grow—the idea that Change is the lasting truth no matter how extreme. “God is Change; Embrace diversity or be destroyed.”

Butler wrote the ideas behind Earthseed out of the American fear of the unknown, and the potential for history to repeat itself over time. As a Black writer in a world that washes over people of color and racial politics in sci-fi, Butler’s books embed race into the narrative, just as it is embedded into reality. Parable of the Sower makes us reconsider the current state of our country, placing us in a state of anxiety alongside an acceptance to move forward with empathy and power.

I absolutely recommend picking up and checking out this book at the Greenfield Library Open Stacks (call # PS3552 .U827 .P37 2016.) There is also a graphic novel adaptation of Butler’s awesome book Kindred, which can be found as an eBook through EBSCOHost. Happy reading and reflecting!

~ Recommended by Victoria Schenck, Greenfield Library Circulation Assistant 

Student Recommendation: Cop Rock

Cop Rock: The Complete Series

Music Library MD962

Cop Rock, a true gift from the 90s. Steven Bochco and William M. Finkelstein have created a gritty police drama that also happens to be an American musical.

To give you an idea, the pilot opens with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) bursting into a home during a drug raid. Once all suspects have been apprehended and are being put into handcuffs, a beat drops and the ensemble of suspects break into a song expressing to the LAPD the amount of power they hold on the streets.

Being a product of its time, Cop Rock is very self-aware of tensions around police brutality, racial profiling, and analyzing the line of right and wrong. It touches on issues and conversations that we are still having to this day. Thematically, the show is a true drama, but the absurdism seeps in through the songs leading Cop Rock to float closer to a dark comedy. The pilot episode gives us a courtroom scene where the jury breaks into a gospel number to deliver their verdict.

In 2002 TV Guide ranked this show as #8 on their list of “50 Worst TV Shows of All Time”. After 11 episodes ABC canceled the show due to its critical and commercial failure. Cop Rock is infamous for being one of TV’s biggest failures in the 90s, but, thanks to a faculty request, we have it at UArts, ready to be checked out of the Music Library.

Cop Rock is a true gem in my book.  If you’re into films such as The Room, or Rocky Horror Picture Show, then Cop Rock is for you. Find it in the UArts Music Library, call # MD962.

~ Recommended by Briana Gause, UArts Music Library Work Study Assistant

New @ the UArts Libraries: LIBRARIZINE

LIBRARIZINE is a new zine created by + about the UArts Libraries. The first issue was introduced at the libraries’ open house in August, and features an interview with Lillian Kinney, the University Libraries Archivist. The library plans to put out a new issue 2-3 times a year, at the start of the fall, spring, and possibly summer semester. Our goal is to help promote the libraries and all of the interesting things going on here, as well as the libraries’ zine collection.

 

You can pick up a copy of LIBRARIZINE at the circulation desk of the Greenfield Library or the Visual Resources and Special Collections.

If you are interested in submitting items (or suggestions) to LIBRARIZINE, or in using the libraries’ zine collection, please contact Laura Grutzeck, the Visual Resources & Special Collections Librarian at lgrutzeck@uarts.edu.