Librarian Book Smack: A Culture War Report

The other night my roommate convinced me to join her at our regional library’s “Book Smack” event. At first I was concerned that it would be a tedious affair. After all, why would you want to talk about a book when you could just go ahead and read it? However, the event page promised that the librarians would “let their hair down, take off their glasses and speed review their favourite books” and that it would be “fast, furious and fun” night, so with the image of wild librarians in mind, I decided to go along.

When we arrived at the venue, I wasn’t overly surprised to see that the audience was primarily older women. The featured librarians were also all women, although only two of them sported silver-white hair.

Before the event started the MC set some ground rules. Each librarian would have a certain amount of time to convince the audience to read/watch/listen to a few of their favourite books/movies/audiobooks/CDs. In the first round each librarian was given five minutes, then three, then only one, to review their books. During the intermission audience members would then vote for the librarian who they thought would would win the book smack. Then, for the second round, librarians were only given three minutes, then one minute, then only thirty seconds to defend their choices.

I’m not entirely sure what made this event as fantastic as it was. Maybe it was just the fun of seeing librarians mutter words like “full frontal” and “masturbation warning”. Perhaps it was the appeal of seeing a group of much older women giddy with laugher all around me. Most likely, it was the reminder of just how amazing books are, and how they can bring us together by inviting us into new worlds or allowing us to wrestle with our own struggles.

Whatever the allure of the event was, it left my roommates and I ecstatic about reading. Conveniently, the librarians had set up a table at the back where audience members could check out nearly all the books they had reviewed throughout the night.

Below I’ve outlined the top ten books that caught my attention. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a librarian brawl in your town, you can always take a look at a few books that their reviews inspired me to read. Keep in mind I haven’t read these books yet myself, so if you read one and hate it, you will just have to take it up with the librarians.

1. The King in Yellow (Graphic Novel) by R.W. Chambers and I.N.J. Culbard

What drew me most to this book was the promise of several strange short stories, only linked by a play that drives readers mad, if they dare to read past act one. The graphic novel version extends a bit beyond the original by tying the bizarre short stories into one loosely linked narrative.

2. When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Ried

The librarian who reviewed this books issued a myriad of warnings to anyone who wanted to read it (see the “masturbation warning” reference above). When Everything Feels Like the Movies is narrated by a young gay protagonist who experiences the kind of harassment that shocked some readers. However, one sixty-year-old library patron told the reviewing librarian that he wished this book had existed when he was young.

3. Dumplin by Julie Murphy

Dumplin features the self-proclaimed “fat” daughter of a former beauty queen who goes on to take on a teen beauty pageant herself. It was described as both “hilarious” and “empowering” by the librarian who reviewed it.

4. The Illegal by Lawrence Hill

You’ve probably already heard of Lawrence Hill because of his award winning novel, The Book of Negroes. I read The Book of Negroes this year, and although it made me bawl like a small child, it also outlined a large portion of American and Canadian history that I had never heard about. I’m excited to check out The Illegal  next, since it examines the undocumented refugee crisis, while adding a creative twist.

5. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

I actually managed to snag Modern Romance from the library table after the event. I’ve already flown through the majority of the book, which switches between humorous observations about contemporary romantic relationships by comedian Aziz Ansari and stacks of relevant studies and anecdotal evidence compiled with help from Sociologist Eric Klinenberg. So far I’ve been surprised by just how much I’ve learned, and had a very hard time putting it down so that I could write this post.

6. The Reason You Walk: A Memoir by Wab Kinew

Because of his many appearances on CBC, it’s hard not to think about Wab Kinew as an old friend. That’s the thing about radio personalities, they become such familiar voices. Now that Kinew is running for the NDP in Manitoba it makes him even more of a public figure. In Kinew’s memoir he explores his relationship with his father, a residential school survivor, and offers insight on the journey towards reconciliation.

7. El Deafo (Graphic Novel) by Cece Bell

The heroine of this kids novel is forced to wear a bulky hearing aid from an early age. While she feels like her deafness, and her hearing device, separates her from the rest of her classmates, she eventually learns that her hearing aid allows her to hear when teachers are approaching and warn the other kids. I can only assume that some great adventures ensue.

8. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson tells the story of a young girl who grew up in the South and eventually came to be involved in the civil rights movement. The twist? It’s all poetry. Each age is a poem/chapter. However, the story is aimed at young people, so while the poetry is beautiful, it’s also very accessible.

9. The Optimistic Environmentalist: Progressing Towards a Greener Future by David R. Boyd

I truly do care about the environment. That said, I’ve become so worn down with endless bad news that I feel powerless. Boyd’s book offers encouraging success stories as a reminder that our beautiful world isn’t too far gone, and that it isn’t too late to resolve many of our pressing environmental issues.

10. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

This is the only film that managed to worm its way onto my list. The reviewer promised that it was a lot like Netflix’s Making a Murderer series, so I couldn’t help but check it out. The trailer, which I’ve included below, is more than a little heartbreaking, and I’m looking forward to watching the full film.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the short reviews I’ve offered (in an attempt to emulate my new librarian heroes). If not, I hope you were at least reminded just how lucky you are that regional libraries offer such a wide range of options, since it means you’ll never be forced to act on my suggestions.

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