Ready for Summer: Keystone Libraries Recommend Books for the Summer Break
The upcoming summer holiday is a great time to slow down and find some sense of clarity—and one reflective way to do just that is through reading. Want to get more inspiration? Here are eleven books that our three Keystone Libraries have recommended in the past year through our popular In the Loop column, “Be a Bookworm”. If you are longing to set out on a journey, there are several novels that you can devour too!
The Last Human
By Lee Bacon
Imagine if there are no humans on Earth: there will be no war, pollution, or crime. In short, everything runs smoothly and efficiently. However, the robot XR_935 discovers something impossible: a human named Emma. The twelve-year-old automaton has been programmed to believe all humans are dangerous. How will the unlikely pair survive in a place where rules are never broken and humans are not supposed to exist? What will they find at the end of their journey? Humorous, action-packed, and poignant, The Last Human tells a story about friendship, technology, and challenging the status quo no matter the consequences.
Half-an-Hour Comics of Chinese History (series)
By Er Hun Zi
What if the Warring States were a class? How did the Qin Dynasty drop dead? Were there only three major battles during the Three Kingdoms period? In Half-an-Hour Comics of Chinese History, Er Hunzi demonstrates Chinese history in a ‘not-in-your-wildest-imagination’ way. Some adults might frown upon comic books like this. But what harm could there be if many teenagers start loving history because of enjoying comics? As a Chinese idiom goes, “To open a book is beneficial.”
Re-Discover China in Its Languages
By Zheng Zining
How did putonghua and the pinyin come into existence? What is the right way to chant ancient Chinese poems? Can a Chinese dialect be used as a military code like the native American language in the film Windtalkers? How did ancient Chinese solve math problems without the symbol ‘x’? We use our native languages so naturally that we won’t notice their nuances unless they appear directly in front of us. Zheng Zining, a linguist who understands various Chinese languages and dialects, compiles about 50 stories on the development of languages, dialects, ethnic groups, and cultural diversity in both ancient and modern China. Re-Discover China in Its Languages is a book that can help us to see the unseen.
The Moon and Sixpence
By W. Somerset Maugham
Given the freedom of choice, would you live your life by the playbook, working diligently to settle down and do what you should do at your age? Or would you live at your own pace regardless of others’ expectations? Recommended by tenth grader Wangruoxi Liang, The Moon and Sixpence features the protagonist Strickland who gives up a peaceful and wealthy life envied by countless others for his choice. Although Strickland, patterned after post-impressionist artist Paul Gaugin, makes a polarizing choice, his story reminds us of the endless possibilities in a person’s life: with unshakable courage, we can always choose to pursue our ideals and freedom as long as we are still alive.
Our Ancestors (a novel trilogy)
By Italo Calvino; translated from Italian by Archibald Colquhoun
If someone says that all subjects have been covered in literature after thousands of years of development, Italo Calvino would be the first to object. The Italian journalist and writer specialized in exploring the ultimate questions of life with bizarre and eccentric stories. In the trilogy Our Ancestors, Calvino uses humor—and absurd but philosophical characters appearing in all his works—to question how we should live our life. Will you live like the noble but bodiless knight who is lofty but detached from reality? Or be like the happy-go-lucky fool who lives meaninglessly? Or be like the ordinary soldier who can experience both warmth and suffering of existence? Our Ancestors might offer some ideas to living our life to the fullest. But in reality, “How to exist?” is truly a question without a definite answer—and all we can do is explore our own lives.
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy
By Jenny Odell
Keystone alumna Frankie Fan from the Class of 2020 she shares How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, a book that is not a ‘how to’ manual or an anti-technology statement. It is neither a call to dive into meditation. American artist and educator Jenny Odell reminds us of “attention”, a precious but often exhaustively used resource and argues that we need to value things that cannot be measured or easily identified. We need to restore grounds for seeing, not browsing; thinking, not reacting. Once we pay a new kind of ‘attention’ to daily life, it is possible for us to be more courageous, refine our roles and have a deeper understanding of happiness and progress.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
By Grace Lin
Inspired by her father’s stories, Minli, a young girl from the Village of Fruitless Mountain, sets out to find the Old Man on the Moon in the hope of changing her family’s fortune. Along the way, she encounters characters and creatures from Chinese folklore, such as the Dragon, the Boy who has nothing but a buffalo, the Goldfish, and the Green Tiger. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a wondrous story of adventure, faith, and friendship. Grace Lin, known as one of the best Chinese-American children’s book authors in the English-speaking world, has written more than a dozen picture books and fictions by skillfully weaving her special affection for Chinese culture into stories.
This book was awarded the Silver Medal of the Newbery Medal for Children’s Literature in 2009. As part of ‘Stop Asian Hate’ efforts, many libraries and librarians highly recommend Grace Lin’s books to readers, as well as other Asian authors, to promote diversity and help different ethnic groups understand each other and appreciate different traditions and cultures. Ms. Lin was a guest during Keystone’s Love of Reading Week from April 19 to 21.
Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University
Written and edited by Mark Kramer, Wendy Call
During April’s Love of Reading Week, the Keystone Libraries welcomed editors from The New York Times for Kids who hostedtwo sessions on media and journalism. Our intrepid students asked them two common questions: “How do you select a topic?” and “How do you make it appealing to the target audience?” For those who missed the sessions, here is a fantastic book on non-fiction writing written by some of the respected and acclaimed journalists and media practitioners in the United States. Telling True Stories is a collection of inspiring stories and practical advice from practitioners, covering everything from finding a good topic to structuring narrative stories, even writing your first book.
Among the well-known writers featured in the book are Tom Wolfe (who offers tips on the emotional core of the story), Gay Talese (on writing about private lives), Malcolm Gladwell (on the limits of profiles), and Alma Guillermoprieto (on telling the story and telling the truth). These essays, put together, give us a comprehensive picture on how to bring people, scenes, and ideas to life on the page.
From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society
Written by Fei Xiaotong, translated by Gary Hamilton and Wang Zheng
Fei Xiaotong was a pioneering Chinese sociologist and anthropologist whose works laid a solid foundation for the development of China’s sociological and anthropological studies. His works also introduced social and cultural phenomena of China to the international community. From the Soil was written with a Chinese audience in mind to develop a conceptual framework that depicts Chinese society characteristics while simultaneously contrasting the organizational structures of both Chinese and Western societies.
According to Fei, “the Chinese people come from the soil.” Today’s China has experienced dramatic changes since 1947, but many Chinese who have read the book agree: if one wants to understand China, one must go back to the soil.
In 2020, all new undergraduates of Tsinghua University received a copy of this book as a special gift from their principal. During the summer break, perhaps this straightforward piece of writing can accompany you, wherever you are, on Chinese soil.
Camille under an Umbrella
Text and illustration by Liu Hao
Camille under an Umbrella is a salute from Chinese author and illustrator Liu Hao to Claude Monet. In this book, Monet’s wife, Camille Doncieux, comes alive from his painting, travels in his works, and returns to him in the end. Liu introduces both the elegance of art and the beauty of love to children in a refreshing way. According to Liu, life is too short to be in love with more than one person; yet life is long enough to be deeply in love with one person.
Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life in China
Text and illustration by Rao Pingru; translated from Chinese by Nicky Harman
“Every word I have written is true. Every story is true. All these pictures of the past came from my head.” In 2008, Mao Meitang, the wife of comic book author Rao Pingru, passed away after long years of facing Alzheimer’s disease. Rao memorialized her and their relationship through writing and painting and relived their days together by visiting every place where they had been. The autobiographical memoir Our Story follows the couple through the decades, in both poverty and good fortune: living during the Sino-Japanese War, looking for work, opening a restaurant, raising their children, and being separated for 17 years when Rao was sent to a labor camp. All the while, China was undergoing extraordinary growth, political turmoil, and cultural change.
Spanning more than eight decades from 1922 to 2008, Our Story tells a poignant yet inspiring tale of enduring love and simple values; it is an old-fashioned story that unfolds in a nation undergoing cataclysmic change.