Year 14, Book 58

58. Audience of One: Television, Donald Trump, and the Fracturing of America by James Poniewozik

New York Times television critic James Poniewozik examines the evolution of television and mass media as well as Donald Trump’s history and his own obsession with television. He looks at how the combination of the two was one of the many reasons that Donald Trump got elected president. I very much believe that his ability to take advantage of the current television landscape is one of the major factors in how he got elected and watching how things continue to play out I very much worry that his ability to know how to use television and media to manipulate us is going to get him another 4 years. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 57

57. Burning Down the Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall by Tim Mohr

This book looks at the history of the punk rock movement in East Germany and how it lead to the revolution that helped bring down the Berlin Wall. There were some really interesting stories in the book and the partnership created between the punks and the Church was fascinating. There are of course a lot of terrible stories about how the punks were treated by the Stasi. I thought it was an interesting story, but I think it was perhaps a little too detailed for what I cared about. I had a hard time keeping all the people straight there were so many of them. I think I might have preferred a New Yorker length article on the subject rather than an entire book. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 14 ,Book 56

56. All the Worlds Between Us by Morgan Lee Miller

Quinn is a 17-year old high school student who is also trying to qualify for the Olympic swimming team. She just barely missed qualifying in the last round and is determined to spend her senior year distraction free and focused on her goal. The only problem is her twin brother who has started hanging around with the popular kids who make her life a living nightmare. Even worse one of the popular kids is her old best friend Kennedy and the first girl she ever kissed, who moved away and then completely ignored Quinn when she moved back.

I really enjoyed this book. I thought the teenagers and their feelings felt pretty realistic. I liked the relationships between the characters. I would definitely say that though this is a young adult book it is definitely for an older young adult audience as there are some fairly detailed sex scenes. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 55

55. Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life of a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald

When Jill Grunenwald graduated from library school in 2008 library jobs were in scarce supply, so she wound up working in a minimum security men’s prison. She shares her stories of working the prison for just under 2 years. There were some interesting stories, but the book definitely felt like an amateur memoir and over-familiarly written. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 54

54. One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten

Weingarten is a journalist who came up with the idea of writing a book about a single day in America. After setting some parameters so the date was not too far in the past to find people to interview nor too recent he plucked a random day out of a hat and wound up with December 28, 1986. He then sets about telling the stories of things that happened to people on that day around the country from small personal things that changed individual lives like beating a video game to bigger things like local murders that never made the national spotlight but no doubt had lasting impacts. Sometimes he tells the story of just what happened on that day and other times he uses it as a spring board to talk about the lives of people farther into the future and how something that happened on that day influenced where their lives ended up. Some stuff it was very obvious how he could have found the stories he pursued just by searching headlines in newspaper databases for that day. Others I’m very curious how he even found out about what he was writing about because save for one story he never tells you. It’s a fascinating book and a real look at how big things are happening in people’s lives every day even when they don’t constitute big news events. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 53

53. Jerkwater by Jamie Zerndt

Jerkwater is set in a small town in Wisconsin where tensions are high between the Native American Ojibwa and white communities. Among these mounting racial tensions Shawna a young Ojibwa woman, her neighbor Kay who is falling further into alcoholism and Alzheimer’s, and Kay’s son Douglas are all facing things that haunt them from their pasts and add fuel to the fire. This book felt like a little slice of life for the most part. I appreciated all the characters and the friendship between Shawna and Douglas that felt both fraught and real. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 52

52. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

Keefe takes a deep look into the Irish Troubles of the 1970s-1990s by focusing on some of the IRAs key players, some of their victims, and how a peace was brokered. It made me realize how little I actually knew about that conflict and made me understand much better why everyone is worried about how Brexit might impact the current detente. Even though this book contains a lot of information I almost wish it had provided more information further back because I had no idea the IRA had existed for hundreds of years and I’m still not sure I fully grasp the conflict. But I think the decision to focus in on the modern era of the IRA was the right one. It’s a really excellent book that I highly recommend. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 51

51. Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Braun

Patsy is a Jamaican woman who longs to reunite with her long ago love Cicely who emigrated to America years before. When she finally secures a travel visa to the United States she intends to never return to Jamaica. However, when she gets to the United States she discovers that it’s not everything Cicely led her to believe in her letters nor does Cicely intend to continue the relationship that their culture forbids. The story follows her as an undocumented immigrant trying to make her way through New York over the next decade while also following the story of her daughter Tru back in Jamaica.

Patsy is a multi-layered story about roots, culture, immigration, motherhood, and sexuality. I appreciate that Patsy is a multi-faceted character who you both sympathize with but also can loathe some of the decisions she makes particularly regarding her daughter. I give it an 8 out of 10.