July 2015: Settings We Want To Go To

giphyThis time of year always puts me in mind of travel, even though I don’t think I personally have gone anywhere in July more exciting than the Maine coast (not that the Maine coast isn’t exciting). But there’s something about summer that says, “Okay, pack your bags, it’s time to go somewhere awesome.”

Luckily for those of us with less time or money to travel than we might like, armchair tourism is a thing. And that’s what we’re going to be posting about this month—books with settings so compelling and vivid that you find yourself planning to drop everything and head off to Ecuador, or Iceland, or Narnia. These are the books that immerse you in their worlds completely, convince you you’re there until you run out of pages, and leave you fighting the urge to buy plane tickets at 2am.

May 2015: Reading Spots

5977076816_582b6d4cd2_oIt’s May 2015 and that means two things. 1) May is the fifth month and 2) Read Five has now existed for a whole year. So, in honor of these two occasions, we’re going to spend the month talking about five things that aren’t books.

Of course, I say that, but this is a book blog, so it’s not like we’re going to tell you about five iPhone aps or five brands of toothpaste or anything. Dana and I are book people, obviously. But we are also place people. We like talking and thinking about places, both conceptually and specifically in relation to our lives. So we’re going to celebrate our blogiversary (. . . sorry) by writing about five of our favorite places to read.

We mean this in the specific, personal sense. As in, “this particular coffee shop in this particular city”, not “coffee shops” in general. This way, we can have more fun reminiscing. And this month, even more than all the others, is just about us having fun. Happy May!

March: Kids Graphic Lit

tumblr_nio9etvVia1u5ua6zo1_400Every once in a while, no matter how much you love books, you go through a reading slump. You know what I’m talking about—you pick up a book you’ve been looking forward to, one you’re absolutely certain you’ll like, and, for some reason, you just can’t make it stick. So then you try out another off your epic TBR pile, and another, and another. And even though you know, you know, you actually like the books, you just can’t seem to enjoy them.

First things first: forgive yourself. It happens to the best of us. Right now, it’s happening to me. And I’m here to tell you that there is hope. There is a solution, friends, and that solution is middle grade graphic novels. Other people will tell you to reread your favorites, to try short stories or comedy or edge-of-your-seat thrillers, and those are all solid suggestions. They’ve helped me through some tough spots. But in my experience, the best way to get yourself to want to read again is to pick up a book that doesn’t require a lot of reading at all.

So that’s what we’ll be posting about this month: our favorite graphic lit written for people at least ten years younger than we are. These are obviously great books if you happen to be twelve, but they’re also great if you happen to be 25, or 38, or 59 (or, you know, any other age) and just in need of a reading pick-me-up.

February 2015: Books You Can Do

pick-adventure-noteThere’s a lot of argument these days about whether it matters how you read. Everybody has an opinion—there’s the ereaders camp, the physical books camp, the “I don’t care just give ‘em to me” camp, and all sorts of other permutations. We at Read Five are not here to judge (unless you’re using a Kindle). But the fact remains that some books just require a physical form because form is part their narrative. These books were designed to be objects that readers need to interact with to experience the story. They are, as we’ve unceremoniously dubbed them, books you can do.

This’ll all become clearer when we start actually posting, but for now, just think of a physical “Choose Your Own Adventure.”choose_your_own_adventure-24466

January 2015: Ensembles

I was lying around yesterday being lazy, just thinking about how it was going to be January 1 tomorrow (now today!), and on January 1 two things were going to happen: a) we needed to figure out a new theme for a new month, and b) Friends was going to be on Netflix.






And then I got to thinking.


The best thing about Friends is obviously the ensemble-ness of the cast. And there are tons of other awesome ensembles out there in the book world.

I told Serena my idea and she was like


So this month we’ll be talking about books with great groups of characters—characters who are good alone,


but oh so much better together.


Ah yes, I can smell the anticipation.

Oh, and PS, this month we’ll be linking to The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont. Hurrah!

From Margaret: Bad Feminist

And finally, last but certainly not least, we welcome Margaret Bostrom, Graduate Teaching Fellow at the University of Oregon. Margaret and I (hi, I’m Serena) found each other at Harvard Book Store, where Margaret ruled before heading off to spend a few years banging her head into the hallowed walls of academia. She has her own blog (updated understandably less frequently since grad school) that nevertheless gives a sense of her huge, impressive (and somewhat intimidating) appetite for all things literature. 

18813642We live in a world that is not kind to feminists. In our current cultural maelstrom, rumors of “post-feminism” and reasons why #IDontNeedFeminism compete with headlines about rape culture and the legal erosion of women’s reproductive rights. Men like George Zimmerman are found “not guilty” while women like Marissa Alexander are sentenced and incarcerated, and though it is certain you have heard Zimmerman’s name, it is far less likely you’ve heard Alexander’s. As Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay might say, “these things are connected” and these connections matter to feminism.

Responding to this world as a feminist is complicated and demanding at best, disheartening and dangerous at worst. Given all this dolor, a reasonable next move for you, right now, might be to push back your chair and accost the nearest feminist (hopefully yourself) with an aggressively puzzled, “Why bother??”

Luckily, there’s an easy answer: we bother because feminism has a phenomenal upside (its passionate investment in transforming the world, for starters) and badass, eloquent spokeswomen like Roxane Gay.

If you love good writers, or women who are opinionated, compassionate, and honest, or feminists who take up space, laugh too loudly, and refuse to be demure, easily satisfied, or conventionally catty, you will love Roxane Gay. From pop culture critiques analyzing race, gender, and sexuality, to personal narratives rife with exquisite nerdery (read the one about competitive scrabble!), the essays in Bad Feminist are wise, thoughtful, and never shy about engaging difficulties, disagreements, and contradictions.

That this world is difficult, contradictory, and not kind to feminists is exactly why feminism matters and one of the many things feminism seeks to change. Few writers explain this as pointedly, poignantly, and powerfully as Roxane Gay. Her Bad Feminism is good enough for me.

[Margaret wanted to link to Black Sun Books in Eugene, OR, a recent in her long line of favorite bookstores. But again, their website is pretty minimalist, so I linked to IndieBound. —Serena]

From Greg: Debt: The First 5,000 Years

Next up is Greg Goldberg, returns maven at Harvard Book Store, where he first arrived as a bookseller a little over two years ago. When he’s not playing Grim Reaper and culling the bookstore’s inventory, Greg draws lots of things and reads lots of things. He has vastly and delightfully eclectic taste, so I really didn’t know what to expect from him today, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Greg’s recommendations over the years, it’s this: whatever it is, give it a shot. Here he is!

41sq+k7A-xLThe best books are like recreational drugs: they make you see everything little thing at least a little bit differently for at least a little while. The story we’re told about economics and markets turns out to be backwards and misleading, according to David Graeber. Barter did not precede conventional modern market systems, nor did markets precede formal political entities. In fact the exact opposite is true: according to the anthropological evidence, the emergence of coinage coincided with the march and subsequent settling of conquering armies, which suggests that markets as we know them today are descendents of military adventurism. Hardly the apolitical oases of free-choice they’re often thought to be.

Graeber is an avowed anarchist, and his perspective is undeniably ideological, but he resists dogmatic pronunciations with a combination of academic rigor and personal connectedness to the subject that few writers of economic history achieve. It came as a revelation to me, personally, that there is no separation between the political and the economic at all, and since this is not the mainstream view, it adds an extra dimension to following the news (if you need one).

Anyway, you need to read this book. If you’re interested in anything—money, religion, history, guilt—it will blow your mind. If you have ever wondered or thought about anything—socks, politics, logical syllogism—you should read it. That’s casting a wide enough net, right? Do you watch Netflix? Do you quilt? It doesn’t matter. Please just read this book and tell your friends (and enemies) about it. They’ll thank you.

Great! You’ve decided of your own volition to read Debt! Want to support an awesome independent bookstore in the process? Order it through the MIT Press Bookstore, one of the two coolest bookstores in the world.

From Melissa: Station Eleven

Friend number two! Meet Melissa Faulner, Assistant Editor at Dutton Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers. Melissa started in publishing at Penguin in 2010 after working in higher ed administration. After abandoning Penguin for a stint at Abrams, she returned to her publishing stomping grounds in 2013 and has been happily ensconced at Dutton ever since. John Green follows her on Twitter, and so can you. Here’s Melissa:

9780385353304These days, if you happen to spend more than five minutes talking to me, you’ll probably be subjected to one of three topics: the drawbacks/benefits of shortening in all-butter pie crust recipes (hint: 50/50 ratio); “Oh my gosh, how are you not listening to Serial?”; and finally, a recommendation to read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. That said, I’ll admit that despite its status as a National Book Award finalist, and all the buzz it received throughout the fall, it wasn’t until I read a relatively recent New Yorker article, reviving the ages old debate about the role and definition of genre fiction, that I became fully aware of (and slightly obsessed with) it.

Because—and here’s the thing that really grabbed me—Station Eleven isn’t just a book about the post-apocalyptic landscape of the world, it’s about how that apocalypse actually happened. Switching seamlessly between past, present, and future narratives, it’s the stories of the people who live and die when a deadly strain of flu virus efficiently wipes out most of the world’s population within a matter of weeks. As someone who works in children’s books, and so has read an excessive amount of dystopian fiction, this proved an intensely fascinating premise: to actually see how the world ended.

Station Eleven is filled with moments of stark realness and sentiment, while depicting the best and worst aspects of our own humanity. But mostly, it’s a love letter to the persistence and indefatigable spirit of art and storytelling, which not only survives the collapse of civilization, but continues to make life worth living. As the New Yorker explains, “Unlike Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which asked what would remain after the collapse of culture, Station Eleven asks how culture gets put together again.” Because, to pull an oft-used quote from the book (and Star Trek: Voyager), survival is insufficient.

[I made an executive decision on Melissa’s behalf to link to Posman Books, because I know the fact that they’re closing their Grand Central location basically ruins her life. But their website, while lovely, is basically useless. So those links go to Indiebound.—Dana]

From Liz: Dear Committee Members

Here we go! First up is Liz Sher, children’s book buyer at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA. Liz started her bookselling career in 2009 at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C., where she discovered some of her favorite people: me (hi, I’m Dana), Mal Peet, and Julie Orringer. She is one of the most passionate readers I know, and the look on her face while watching certain authors read from their books is the world’s purest example of bliss. Take it away, Liz!


Ah, December reading round-ups! I look forward to these every year. And I’m grateful that Dana and Serena narrowed their field to books published in 2014. Otherwise the task of choosing just one book would have been (even more) impossible. So I won’t be talking about Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie mysteries; or Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land; or Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah, which I read for the second time; or Dorothea Grossman’s slim little poetry collection The Fun of Speaking English, which I carried around in my backpack for a month like a fizzy stash of nips. (Read them anyway.)

As for 2014 books that I read in 2014, Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members brought me the purest joy. It’s a novel told in increasingly deranged letters of recommendation, as written by a beleaguered English professor at a small Midwestern university. It’s funnier, sadder, more serious, and more soulful than you expect it to be. It’s a paean to and a plea for the literary life. It offers one of the simplest, loveliest explanations for reading books at all: a great book “will speak to something within us – some previously unarticulated thought or reflection that, once recognized, we will never want to be without again.”

Where should you buy this gem? Let’s honor the book’s Midwest college setting and head over to Iowa City’s Prairie Lights.

And now for something completely expected.

books-for-christmas-32896937927_xlargeSo it’s December. And what is December if not the month when we all drown in best-of-the-year lists, plus twinkly lights. Yes, this month’s theme is—you guessed it!—2014 favorites. But! A twist! They will not be our 2014 favorites. Oh no no. This is going to be far more interesting, and it’s going to require us to do far less work.

A few of our book-people friends noticed us whitewashing this here fence and thought it looked mighty exciting, so we let them pick up a brush. Each of them is going to share one favorite from this year (“one” and “this year” are terms used loosely here) and tell you what bookstore you should buy it from.

We’ll chime in at the end with our own picks, as long as we’re not too buried under piles of presents to get to our computers on the 25th. Happy Decembering!