Teen behavior in libraries includes a lot of browsing. I have two different display spaces in my small high school library. Fortunately, one of them is right in front of my desk, so I often get the chance to watch students check out the latest books (surreptitiously, lest I scare them away!). Some will just peer, some will pick up and flip through. But a big, bright nonfiction book might even tempt them to pick up and take to a comfy chair nearby.
The most popular book on my display right now is Dancers Among Us. No one has checked it out — but several students have picked it up over the last week alone. Some stand and page through, some take it away and bring it back. Just last period I walked past a student paging through the book. She looked up and said, “This book makes me so happy.” Yes. How can it not? Beautiful people. Beautiful settings. Humans moving or hovering as light as feathers through familiar surroundings. There are clips of the photography sessions available on dancersamongus.com
Man Up could certainly be enjoyed via a straight reading. However, I can easily imagine teens opening this memoir at random and getting hooked. Carlos Andrés Gómez speaks at colleges around the country, and blogs for The Good Men Project. He has released an album as a spoken word/poetry performer, and given a TEDx Talk titled Man Up: The Gift of Fear.
I put poetry on display constantly in my library. I’m always hoping that a student will pick up a collection and read even one poem. I don’t think it’s easy to read a collection straight through. Sampling works well, especially for younger readers. Mary Oliver has written many books of poetry. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 and the National Book Award in 1992. Her poems are often on natural subjects, and often accessible for inexperienced readers.
Adult/High School–Matter began with the idea of expressing the joy to be found in everyday life. After his first photo shoot for a dancer with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, he knew he had found the vehicle for realizing his dream. This energetic, beautiful book is the result. Dancers Among Us is a collection of photographs divided into chapters such as “Dreaming,” “Loving,” “Grief,” “Playing,” and “Working.” Dancers appear suspended in midair, leaping across a railroad trestle, stretched within a doorway, captured in expressions from surprise to exuberance to contemplation. While the settings vary from rural to urban, the majority are in New York City. Each section is introduced with a brief essay about a related moment in Matter’s life. Even better, a chapter titled “About the Photographs” explains the backstory for nearly every shot. This is a wonderful book for readers of all ages. Teenagers may especially appreciate the section titled “Exploring” in which Matter celebrates “anticipating the rewards” of the unknown. Life affirming and joyful, this is a perfect choice for a browsing collection and will, of course, be popular with aspiring dancers and photographers.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City
Adult/High School–Gómez is an exhilarating spoken word artist; his ability to drive words to a crescendo of insight is spectacular. This, his first book, shows his romantic and vulnerable side. A defining moment in Gómez’s commitment to the exploration of manhood occurred at 2 a.m. in a nightclub: he was face to face with a man he was about to fight when unbidden and unexpected tears sprung to his eyes. All of the men backed away from him as if a bomb had gone off. The book opens with Gómez taking his anger out on a hotel clerk, recognizing what he’s doing and apologizing. This leads to a beautiful connection between the two men. Gómez exposes (sometimes a bit too much of) his sexual life and some (sometimes not enough) of his questions about and explorations of what it means to be a man, to be vulnerable, to treat women well, and to deal personally with societal issues such as homophobia. Growing up bi-racial, the child of a United Nations diplomat and indigenous-rights advocate and living in many countries, he gained a fascinating perspective on race and Americaas well as gender roles. The “Code of Manhood” is not cracked in his book, as the subtitle might suggest, but it is explored. Teens will appreciate reading about some of his first sexual experiences–what teen doesn’t want to know the truth of the awkwardness?–but may get lost in some of the subtleties. This is a great choice for a book group discussion. Excerpts from the author’s solo spoken word play “Man Up” introduce each chapter.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA
Adult/High School–In this fine collection of poetry, Oliver shares her delight in nature again. The timeless beauty of the sea, the mystery of counting tree leaves, the joy of spinning, all provide glimpses of her thoughts. “Poem of the One World” shows her style beautifully. “This morning/the beautiful white heron/ was floating along above the water/and then into the sky of this/the one world /we all belong to/ where everything/sooner or later/is a part of everything else/which thought made me feel/ for a little while/ quite beautiful myself.” The short selections should have special appeal to teen. “Three Things to Remember” would make a terrific poster selection. “As long you’re dancing, you can/ break the rules./Sometimes breaking the rules is just/extending the rules./Sometimes there are no rules.” “Hurricane” is a poem for those who have experienced recent storms to consider. “It didn’t behave/ like anything you had/ ever imagined. The wind/ tore at the trees, the rain/fell for days slant and hard./The back of the hand/ to everything. I watched/the trees bow and their leaves fall/and crawl back into the earth./As though, that was that.” Everyone who has lost a pet would wish for the ability to commemorate the animal as the poet does for her dog. “For I Will consider My Dog Percy” shows longing for her wonderful companion who “snored only a little.”–Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City