As we near the end of 2019, we wanted to share some of the books,
podcasts and other media that staff here at the Library Development and Network
Division loved this year! Here’s to a great 2020!
Jennifer Peters, Director of Library Development & Networking
I’ve been making my way through numerous mystery series this year. I’m particularly fond of gritty police procedurals set in the U.K. My favorite in 2019 was Adrian McKinty’s “Troubles” series, set in Northern Ireland between 1981-1988. How do the police solve crimes in the country where paramilitary violence is the norm? What does it feel like to live in a warzone? Detective Sergeant Sean Duffy is a Roman Catholic in the predominately Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and is thus mistrusted by everyone. He’s a complex, flawed, and completely believable protagonist. Real events and people from the period are incorporated into the plotlines, making for atmospheric and educational reading. The first in the series is The Cold Cold Ground. Thanks to Austin Public Library for an extensive collection of full mystery sets for readers like me.
Valicia Greenwood, Library Statistics Specialist
With politics so prevalent these days, I can suggest two books I have read this year, which truly give one a feel for the people behind the news stories: Becoming, by Michelle Obama; and The Education of an Idealist, by Samantha Power. These are both memoirs by strong and courageous women, who started out more-than-naïve, yet grew and adapted to the circumstances in which they found themselves. While there is much in their stories to admire, such as how they juggled their ideals and their time while growing a family, there is also much that astonished me about how things work in the federal government. Both are good reads!
Tomas Mendez, Office Services Coordinator
I really enjoyed The Ballad of Black Tom. The Ballad of Black Tom is a short horror novella by Victor LaValle set in 1920s Harlem that will have you turning the pages so fast that you’ll be sad when it’s over and will leave you with so many questions that you’ll be filled with eerie confusion. African American author Victor LaValle aims to cast a critical and satirical eye on H.P. Lovecraft’s popular but xenophobic and racist writings in this amazing book. LaValle tells the story of a mysterious hustler and musician by the name of Tommy Tester, who deals in strange artifacts sold to even stranger clients. Tommy is pushed to his limits by racism and police brutality, to the point where he takes matters into his own hands (with a little help from a powerful ancient terror).
Kyla Hunt, Library Management Consultant
My kids are curious, and my older (who is 7 years old) asks a *lot* of questions. Partly because of this, we have been listening to the podcast “But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids” from Vermont Public Radio. This podcast has been wonderful – the host reads questions submitted by kids from around the world, getting experts who take the questions seriously. The show never talks down to kids, and provides more details than I have for many of the questions my daughter asks.
Ann Griffith, Electronic Resources Coordinator
The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors by David George Haskell
This lyrical, layman-friendly book by biology professor
David Haskell focuses on twelve trees he has visited across the world.
The living trees include a ceibo, fir, pine, ash, pear, sabal palm, cottonwood,
olive, and bonsai pine. Haskell also profiles a hazel nut tree which
lived over 10,000 years ago and now exists only as charcoal fragments found in
an ancient human settlement. Each tree is examined through a prism of
senses, notably sound and sight. Haskell creates word pictures that
include a tree’s setting, details about nearby flora and fauna, how the trees
interact to their environments through time, and how humans interact with the
trees through time. Haskell lays out trees’ important roles in nature’s
interconnectedness and to the human species with scientific precision and a
Henry Stokes, Library Technology Consultant
I never thought of myself as a fan of the true crime genre as I’m often squeamish and have a healthy aversion to hearing about real life serial killers. That changed this year because somehow during 2019 I listened to twenty-seven (27!) different true crime podcast series. It got to the point where I couldn’t drive my commute or wash dishes in the evenings without hearing about the efforts to bring truth and justice to a murder, abduction, missing person, or other unsolved crime.
If you are like me and like a good true crime podcast, here are my top five favorites heard in 2019. Most of these also happen to have a connection to technology, social issues, and librarianship in some way.
1) “Bear Brook” – Newly invented DNA matching tech and good old-fashioned genealogy research combine to solve a 35 year old cold case of three unidentified murder victims and no other physical evidence. This one blew my mind with the almost magical way the truth was eventually determined.
2) “The Ballad of Billy Balls” – A woman lost her rock n’ roll soulmate in a 1982 New York shooting, but the details of his killing remained a mystery. That is until her son undertook a touching, funny, and often surprising journey to investigate what really happened.
3) “The Dropout” – While on a road trip between trainings, Cindy Fisher and I played this podcast series about the recent tech world charlatan, Elizabeth Holmes. While listening, I kept thinking of the strange parallels Holmes had with the Fox sisters who launched the 19th Century Spiritualism movement – particularly the way they were both blindly believed by their powerful male admirers. To me, testing 200 diseases from 1 drop of blood within a tiny mystery box to revolutionize healthcare is not that far off from the notions that seances are real and the dead can talk. Both seemed scientifically possible in their time. Both were just wishful thinking about our own mortality, and both were later revealed to be tricks (the Fox sisters used their clicking toes to fake ghost sounds). It reminded me that, in this age of deepfake videos and the dissemination of false information, libraries are powerhouse purveyors of the skills people need to discern a hoax, flimflam, or bamboozlement.
4) “Missing & Murdered Finding Cleo” – This eye-opening look at the horrific impact of the Canadian Indian residential school system is not easy or light listening, but it’s beautifully done, compassionate, and very moving. Normally true crime stories have a murderous person to catch, but what if it’s a system that perpetuates the crimes? One of my favorite parts of this series is when a fateful visit to a library plays a pivotal role in finding the missing girl.
5) “White Lies” – A community has to reckon with its racism as a pair of journalists explore what really happened with an unsolved murder at the center of the civil rights movement. What records are left around to document the truth when many would like it to be buried?
Truth-be-told, I’m not sure 27 true crime stories playing continuously in my ears was great for my psyche, despite how thought-provoking many of them were. So for 2020, I’m switching to podcasts that are comedic, uplifting, and positive for a while. One I recommend already is Victoriocity – a charming detective comedy radio play with a full cast of performers set in a steampunk Victorian setting. If you like the wit of Douglas Addams, Terry Pratchett, and Monty Python, it’s a must listen.