Book Review: “Before I Fall” by Lauren Oliver

before i fall

Have you seen the movie Groundhog Day? Even if you haven’t, you’re probably familiar with the basic thematic concept of living the same day over and over again- it’s been done in many movies and books. Sometimes this kind of storyline can get boring and repetitive. However, when it’s done right, it can be effective and even entertaining, and Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is a great example of this.

Before I Fall  examines the life of a popular “mean girl,” Samantha Kingston, and what happens when she dies and then has to relive her last day multiple times.

 

What Before I Fall does right: Samantha (Sam) goes through the stages of grief when she realizes that she has died, has to relive her last day, and isn’t sure why or how to get out of it. One day shows her taking a nihilistic view- if she’s really dead, then nothing she does matters, right? On a different day, she’s so grateful to see her parents, friends, and town again that she practically beams the whole day. I find this take on the popular “Groundhog Day” theme to be pretty realistic.

The characters in Before I Fall dance off the page as if they were real. Hardly anyone is two dimensional, even though they may seem that way at first. Sam learns more and more about the people around her and how her actions have affected them for better or for worse. She seeks to make things right with those she has wronged- in particular, she wants to help a bullied girl named Juliet when Sam realizes that Juliet committed suicide on the same original day that Sam died.

Sam herself undergoes a fair amount of character development, but it doesn’t seem rushed, forced, or overly moralistic. She changes slowly, with plenty of frustration about her situation and toward her friends when they don’t understand why she seems different with each relived day. It’s a believable amount of growth, but Before I Fall still leaves you with that glowing sense of redemption.

 

What Before I Fall gets wrong: There are parts of the book that seem a little long, and there are times when Sam makes choices that seem cringey or obviously wrong- doesn’t she know better by now? But all of this is leading to her ultimate redemption, and it’s worth it to keep reading.

 

Who should read Before I Fall: Older teenagers, college students, and adults alike may enjoy this realistic depiction of teenage life (played out through an unrealistic Groundhog Day theme). Before I Fall can be very sad at times, but the ultimate messages are of love, friendship, family, and redemption.

 

Who shouldn’t read Before I Fall: With its mature themes and language, Before I Fall is not marketed towards younger readers. However, older readers will probably enjoy and relate to this book. Please be warned, however, that this book contains heavy themes and intense depictions of teen and adult problems (think Thirteen Reasons Why and read the content note below).

 

Content note: language, suggestive content, heavy themes (including eating disorders, suicide, and inappropriate relationships).

 

Before I Fall is available in the library’s Family Room.

How To Make Time For Reading As A Busy College Student

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I’ve worked in the library for several years, and one thing I hear a lot from students is “I wish I could read that book, but I don’t have time!”

Now, I’m not here to give you a lecture on time management, or to tell you to stop doing homework so that you can read for fun! That’s definitely not what you should be doing as a student. However, I do think many students would like to find the time to read in their busy lives, so here are a few tips on how to squeeze in some reading time.

 

Read on-the-go.

Did you know that you can download eBooks from our library website? Once they’re downloaded on your Kindle, phone, or laptop, you can read the eBook even if you’re online. This is a great option for time spent waiting in line at Cobo or sitting in Nurse Paul’s office- those few extra minutes could be reading time!

 

Read on breaks.

From Christmas break to summer break, there’s usually a few hours to spare for leisurely reading. When I look at my Goodreads statistics, I can see that I typically read the most during J-Term, when I have a few days off of work and a less hectic schedule.

 

Read during meals.

Meal breaks are a great time to read a quick chapter or a few poems, especially if you find yourself in Cobo at a time when none of your friends are available for lunch.

 

Read before bed.

If you tend to reach for your phone before you turn out the lights, maybe you could reach for your book instead! If it’s a physical book, then its pages won’t emit sleep-disrupting light like screens do.

 

 

But what to read?

Top 5 Cookbooks At The Library

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Are you a college student who’s getting tired of takeout? We have several cookbooks in the library that can help you find easy, nutritional recipes that you can use in your dorm. These top 5 cookbooks have beautiful photos of the foods mentioned and step-by-step instructions to ensure your success.

 

The Healthy College Cookbook: Quick, Cheap, Easy by Alexandra Nimetz, et al.

This eBook is the perfect place to start your cooking journey! Learn how to set up your first kitchen and flip through 200 recipes that anyone can make.

 

Comfort Food Makeovers by Taste of Home Books

Comfort Food Makeovers is full of familiar, delicious recipes that are also low calorie. Its goal is to make you feel at home while also helping you make healthier dishes.

 

Oh She Glows Everyday Cookbook by Angela Liddon

Looking for something healthy and meatless? Angela Liddon’s cookbook will walk you through a variety of plant-based recipes. This book is available in our Recreational Reading section.

oh she

 

Campbell’s Creative Cooking With Soup by Campbell Soup Company

For chilly days, soup really hits the spot. This cookbook offers over 19,000 combinations of easy soup recipes for the hungry student.

 

Gluten-Free, Hassle-Free: A Simple, Sane, Dietician-Approved Program In Eating Your Way Back To Health by Marlisa Brown

If you practice a gluten-free diet, look no further than this helpful eBook. Gluten-Free, Hassle-Free offers tips in making the change to a gluten-free lifestyle and maintaining good health.

 

 

Top 5 Recent Bestsellers At The Library

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Since the Union library is an academic one, the books we have on our shelves are primarily for research and school-related purposes. However, we also have some “fun reads” and bestsellers in our Recreational Reading section (which is on the 2nd floor near the DVDs). Several of these bestsellers have been popular here at the library, appearing on our most checked out items list for several months now. You can find brief descriptions of them, as well as links to where they are located in the library, below:

 

Educated by Tara Westover

Publication Year: 2018

Genre: Memoir

Description: Tara Westover describes her upbringing in an isolated, survivalist family who did not trust conventional schools or medicine. Westover eventually went to college and learned about the world beyond her mountains.

 

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Publication Year: 2018

Genre: Mystery

Description: The “Marsh Girl” is a local legend in Barkley Cove, North Carolina. This mysterious figure emerges in the midst of local crime.

 

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Publication Year: 2019

Genre: Historical fiction

Description: Two boys struggle to survive the horrors of their juvenile reformatory and racism in the Jim Crow era.

 

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Publication Year: 2018

Genre: Historical fiction

Description: A family moves to Alaska in the 1970’s and deals with harsh wilderness, PTSD, and complicated relationships.

 

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Publication Year: 2019

Genre: Dystopian fiction

Description: More than 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, the oppressive Gilead regime is still standing- but there are signs that it is beginning to rot from within. (You can read our review of The Testaments here.)

 

 

 

Book Review: “The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood

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Have you ever read a book, gotten to the end, and then thought, “WHAT? What’s going to happen next?” The Handmaid’s Tale will make you do that.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is known as a modern classic. Written in 1985, this novel is about an alternate society, Gilead, that runs an oppressive regime against women. Women are forced into different social classes. Some of the main ones mentioned are:

  • Handmaids (essentially surrogate mothers for Wives who can’t naturally have children)
  • Marthas (serving women)
  • Aunts (ruling women who make sure the others are put in their place)
  • Wives (married and subordinate to husbands, who rule over Gilead)

Without giving too much away, The Handmaid’s Tale ends on an exciting cliffhanger. And for 34 years, there was nothing else written about it.

Until now: enter The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. I think it came as a surprise to most readers when Margaret Atwood announced that there was, at long last, another book in the Handmaid universe. At the time of my writing, The Testaments is currently the top bestselling book in the U.S. I couldn’t wait to read it, so I snatched it up as soon as the library’s copy came in (sorry).

*There are minor spoilers ahead, so be aware.

 

What The Testaments gets right: It’s downright chilling how the global problems in the book echo the ones in real life. I’m sure Atwood did that on purpose, but still. It’s always eerie when a fictional dystopia has a little too much in common with the real world.

The Testaments tells its story with three different narrators: Aunt Lydia, Daisy, and Agnes Jemima. Each woman has played a different part in the system of Gilead- one helped enforce it, one suffered from it, and one lived outside of it. Through their perspectives, we get a more complete picture of the political climate surrounding Gilead. For instance, the other countries don’t like Gilead. There are protests everywhere, the global climate is falling apart, and there’s an Underground Femaleroad that women can use to escape from Gilead- if they’re not caught and punished.

So much of what happens to these women is staggeringly upsetting. In fact, much of their suffering is unique to simply being a woman (such as purposefully being denied feminine products while in captivity), which is something I haven’t read much about in other dystopias. The Testaments is a great reminder to not take the little things in life for granted (or the big things either, like freedom of speech, freedom to own property, and the freedom to vote, which are denied these women).

Even though The Testaments was often hard to read because of the mistreatment of women, I loved this book. I read a review in The Guardian where a reader said that she felt like the book was talking directly to her, and that’s exactly how I felt, too. Margaret Atwood really knows how to pull you in and make you think with her writing. She might make you cry, too- I did.

 

What The Testaments does wrong: The Testaments is more heavy-handed and political than The Handmaid’s Tale, largely due to the different narrators and their positions in society. The narrators in the sequel are more self-aware and have years of perspective to look back on, while Offred from the original book lived more in the moment, which didn’t allow her to think about much more beyond her own strategies to stay alive and undetected. She often thought about her lost past, but it was less in political terms and more personal. We had access to her thoughts and suppressed feelings, and we as readers knew less about the wider scope of things that The Testaments gives us.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with The Testaments being more obvious in tone- in fact, many might say that this kind of tone is needed right now- but I missed the personal horror of The Handmaid’s Tale. The Handmaid’s Tale had so many subtle moments that made me double take and reread, as well as blatant anti-woman tactics. The Testaments stays fairly blatant throughout the whole book- which, again, could be due to the fact that we as readers already know all about about Gilead and its evil because of The Handmaid’s Tale. The Testaments doesn’t have to be subtle because, as the saying goes, The Handmaid’s Tale walked so The Testaments could run.

 

Who should read The Testaments: Older teenagers and adults, especially people who have read and enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale.

 

Who shouldn’t read The Testaments: Younger teenagers and children. It’s too mature in theme for them to fully understand.

 

Content note & mild spoilers: There are sad (but fairly brief) recollections of sexual and physical abuse in The Testaments, as well as some language. This is a heavy book.

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Books To Read Now That Fall Is Here

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Okay, I know the weather around here doesn’t scream “fall.” But September 23rd is the official first day of the fall season for 2019, and that has to count for something! For those of us who look forward to fall each year, here is a list of books that are especially perfect to read during the season of falling leaves, pumpkins, scarves, and outdoor sports:

 

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Reason: “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” – Anne Shirley. Sure, it’s not quite October yet, but we’re almost there!

 

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak

Reason: This is a charming children’s book about the changing of the seasons. Look for it in our Family Room!

 

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Reason: Get into the spooky spirit with Shirley Jackson’s classic horror novel, which was recently adapted into a Netflix show.

 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Reason: Fall means school, and The Secret History is all about a group of New England college students. The novel’s element of suspense just adds to its appeal.

 

Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe by Kate Buford

Reason: For some people, fall is all about football season! Dive into football history with this fascinating biography of the formidable athlete, Jim Thorpe.

 

 

 

 

Library Staff Picks: What’s On Your “To Be Read” List?

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For some people, the “to be read” (or TBR) pile of books never stops growing. But what if you’re still looking for something else to read? The library staff are happy to share the books that they are planning to read next- and who knows, you may see some book reviews of these in the future, once we’ve read them!

 

TBR Lists Below

Olivia Chin, Circulation Manager:

  • Next up for Olivia Chin is the fourth book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Feast For Crows. She is hoping to finish the current books in the series this fall; she’s also hoping that George R.R. Martin finishes writing the last two books!
  • Olivia is also looking forward to reading the true-crime biography Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn (which she’s ordered through Interlibrary Loan).
  • And she’d like to finally read the thriller Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

 

Amber Wessies, Instruction Librarian:

 

Matthew Beyer, Library Associate:

 

Shelby Lucius, Student Assistant:

 

 

Spotlight On Library Displays

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Did you know that the library creates displays to showcase our collection? Each month, a new display theme goes up on the first-floor bookcase near the stairs. Monthly themes include:

  • Star Wars
  • Harry Potter
  • Summer Reading
  • STEM
  • Historical Fiction

and more!

 

display

 

We also have books on display in the Family Room. These include children’s books and young adult books. Pictured below is our “Universe of Stories” display!

universe display

 

All of the books, audiobooks, and DVDs on display are available for checkout. Just take the item you want to the Circulation Desk and they will check it out for you.

Book Review: “On Reading Well” by Karen Swallow Prior

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I took the English class “Literary Criticism” in 2012. This class taught me how people have interpreted literature over the years- whether they’re looking at what the author intended, how the text affects the reader, or how the text stands completely on its own. While diving into Derrida and other writer-philosophers like him could be confusing, I always appreciated learning why we read the way we do and how we figure out just what books are trying to tell us.

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books is about literary criticism, but it’s not just for English majors. The author, Karen Swallow Prior, makes classic books accessible to people who may not have read them before or only have a passing knowledge of them. Prior strives to teach us that it’s not enough to read widely- we have to read well. She examines the virtues present in different stories and how we can learn from them.

What On Reading Well gets right: Prior called me out on reading too quickly. Too often I fly through books because I’m trying to get to the next one on my list, when really I should slow down and engage with the text. On Reading Well reminds us how to read and actually learn from what we’re reading.

Prior does a great job of connecting virtues, such as temperance and prudence, with literary, historical, personal, and pop culture examples. She looks at popular and formative books such as Silence, The Road, and Persuasion. This makes On Reading Well a treasure trove of experience. Plus, Bible verses are frequently referenced to help the reader understand and place the virtues in context. You will definitely be encouraged to think by this book!

What On Reading Well gets wrong: It’s certainly not a crime for a book to contain academic references and notes. However, I think On Reading Well was marketed to appear as more of a fun, albeit educational, book than it truly is.  Prior quotes extensively from other authors and thinkers, especially when she’s defining each virtue, and the little notations by each quote can get distracting if you’re trying to read for pleasure rather than for research.

Who should read On Reading Well: Anyone who appreciates literature and, in particular, taking a moral lens to literature. People who are interested in connecting stories with biblical principles. English students looking for accessible literary research and references.

Who shouldn’t read On Reading Well: Scholars who reject taking a moral lens to literature (On Reading Well mentions other forms of literary criticism but does not espouse them; this book sticks strictly to Sir Philip Sidney’s views). People who would rather read a book with less of an academic tone.

 

You can check out On Reading Well from the library.