WPSU's BookMark

BookMark: "The Good Neighbor" By Maxwell King

Feb 6, 2020

Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, it was almost a given that young children watched at least a few episodes of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” And I’m pretty sure I watched more than just a few! I remember well the episode where we saw how crayons were made, as well as the episode where Mister Rogers visited a lighthouse. The Land of Make Believe was a familiar place – both on the show, and the ride at Idlewild Park, which my family and I visited several summers in a row.

BookMark: "Hidden Tapestry" By Debra Dean

Jan 9, 2020

Recognizing the author’s name led me to “Hidden Tapestry” by Debra Dean. Her debut historical novel, “The Madonnas of Leningrad,” is one of my favorite WW II novels.

“Hidden Tapestry: Jan Yoors, His Two Wives, and the War That Made Them One” was like no other book I’ve ever read. It’s a historical biography, but it reads like an unbelievable novel. It’s the biography of Flemish-American artist Jan Yoors, who was known for his giant tapestries.

History makes a great story when it’s told well. And who can resist a good story? I certainly can’t. Having been a history major in undergrad, I may be particularly susceptible. So when I came across Matthew Kneale’s new book, “Rome: A History In Seven Sackings” in the leisure reading collection at Pattee Library, I had to check it out.

BookMark: "Sophia Of Silicon Valley" By Anna Yen

Jul 25, 2019

At first, all Sophia Young wanted was to find a job until she could find a husband. Instead, she finds herself working for Scott Kraft, a notoriously unpredictable and demanding tech mogul. She soon becomes more interested in her work in investor relations than in getting married, which she never planned on. She is quickly promoted and becomes an asset at Kraft’s new business, an animation company called Treehouse that’s set to disrupt the movie industry.

I’ve been waiting anxiously to get my hands on a copy of the graphic memoir “Good Talk” by Mira Jacob. After reading a preview of the book, I was hooked—and when it finally arrived at my door, I read it in less than 24 hours.

The book centers around questions Jacob’s son, Z, asks about his biracial identity. Jacob is east Indian, and her husband is Jewish. “Good Talk” opens with conversations Jacob had with 6-year-old Z after he became obsessed with Michael Jackson.

“Was Michael Jackson brown or was he white?”

BookMark: "Fallen Mountains" By Kimi Cunningham Grant

Jun 13, 2019

“Fallen Mountains” is Kimi Cunningham Grant’s first novel, but hopefully not her last. The book details life in the fictional town of Fallen Mountains, Pennsylvania. Grant grew up in Huntingdon, which lends to the small-town Central Pennsylvania feel when she describes the residents of this close-knit community. In fact, Grant lives here now and teaches in a local school district.

BookMark: "Naamah" By Sarah Blake

May 30, 2019
Camille-Yvette Welsch reviews "Naamah" by Sarah Blake.
Paul Ruby

One of the best-known stories in the Judeo-Christian tradition is that of Noah, father of nations, who built the ark, saved the animals and repopulated the world. Little is said of his wife Naamah, and it is to this forgotten figure that Penn State MFA alumna Sarah Blake turns. She imagines her way into Naamah’s life—the constant care, cleaning and feeding of the animals; the coordination of packing and meals; and the emotional and mental labor that figures into so many women’s daily lives. All of this is magnified by 11 months on an ark inhabited only by family and hungry animals.

BookMark: "Normal People" By Sally Rooney

May 16, 2019

Older people often talk about young love with misty-eyed fondness, as if they wish they could experience it anew. But Sally Rooney reminds us of the dark side of first love in her latest novel, “Normal People.”


In an interview, Ingrid Rojas Contreras said of her debut novel, “I hope to complicate our understanding of the inheritance of violence and how this affects women and girls living in it or surrounded by it.” If that was the goal, Rojas Contreras surpassed it.

Her book, “Fruit of the Drunken Tree,” begins with a photograph 15-year-old Chula Santiago receives in the mail that troubles her. The photo is of Petrona, a young woman who had been a maid in her family’s household before they were forced to flee Colombia.

BookMark: "A Higher Loyalty" By James Comey

Apr 18, 2019

I have a hardback copy of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” and I have a Kindle copy of Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House.” But while I started them both, I haven’t finished reading them. When I picked up James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty,” on the other hand, I had a hard time putting it down. While it is a historically important book, Comey’s down-to-earth style and willingness to convey emotions as well as hard facts also made me feel like I was getting to know the author personally.

BookMark: "A Stranger Here Below" By Charles Fergus

Apr 4, 2019

If you’ve grown tired of formulaic mysteries and thrillers, then you’re in for a treat with the new book “A Stranger Here Below,” Charles Fergus’s 19th published book and the first in his new series of mysteries. The main character, Gideon Stoltz, is a man living on the outskirts—not just geographically in the small fictional town of Adamant, PA, but also emotionally. The town’s insular characters, including his wife’s family, often mock him for his German heritage, calling him “Dutchy.”

BookMark: "Vulture" By Katie Fallon

Mar 21, 2019

They aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing of creatures: they feed on dead animals, and projectile vomiting on their aggressors is their main defense mechanism. But their migration patterns cover most regions of the world, and indigenous communities in India and North America have long looked to them as symbols of rebirth and new life. In her book “Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird,” Penn State alumna Katie Fallon weaves narrative with nonfiction to show readers the beauty in what our society usually sees as foul: the turkey vulture.

BookMark: "Just Mercy" By Bryan Stevenson

Mar 7, 2019

Across the political spectrum, there is growing recognition of the criminal justice system’s failures. But despite some important reforms in recent years, a lot of work still needs to be done, as cruelty and racism continue to infect many aspects of criminal justice. It’s difficult to imagine a more compelling case for tackling these problems than the one found in Bryan Stevenson’s book “Just Mercy.”

BookMark: "A Natural Woman" By Carole King

Feb 21, 2019

John and Karen were our downstairs neighbors in the first apartment my wife and I shared.  When John returned from some misadventure, often with me, Karen would let her feelings be known by blasting Carole King’s “It’s Too Late (Baby)” at varying volumes depending on the level of her ire. 

BookMark: "Refugee" By Alan Gratz

Feb 7, 2019


The mission of the Bellefonte READS Committee is to foster a love of literacy in the community. Each year, the committee chooses a title for “One Book, One Bellefonte” that will engage all community members, but will also challenge perspectives, spark discussion and inspire action. Given the current state of discord in the United States regarding immigration, we believe this year’s choice, “Refugee,” will do just that.

BookMark: "The Female Persuasion" By Meg Wolitzer

Jan 24, 2019

Meg Wolitzer’s new novel, “The Female Persuasion,” is ambitious. It follows the feminist movement from its naïve, optimistic swell in the sixties ­to its present incarnation: a much more complicated, uneasy movement. The novel opens as Greer Kadetsky, a college freshman, hears second-wave feminist Faith Frank speak on her college campus. Greer is captivated by Faith, who is as charismatic as she is persuasive. Greer’s life course is fundamentally altered by meeting Faith after her speech, which sets the stage for the development of their complicated mentor-mentee relationship.

Maria Hummel’s “Still Lives” is one of the smartest thrillers I’ve read in a long time.

In the book, Maggie Richter is an editor at the Roque, a museum in L.A. that is busy preparing for the opening night of artist Kim Lord’s exhibition, “Still Lives.” Each painting in “Still Lives” is a depiction of the artist as a famously murdered woman: Nicole Brown Simpson, “the Black Dahlia,” Kitty Genovese... The show is intended to serve as “an indictment of our culture’s obsession with sensationalized female murders.”

BookMark: "Roads" By Marina Antropow Cramer

Dec 27, 2018

Marina Antropow Cramer’s debut novel, “Roads,” centers on a family living happily in the beautiful coastal city of Yalta, Crimea, in the early 1940s. But with the arrival of WWII, things quickly take a turn for the worst. Unforgettable characters and a plot that takes many twists left my stomach in knots as I tried to imagine how anyone survived at all.

It's almost too obvious to be worth pointing out, but healthcare impacts everyone. And it seems like there's one thing everyone can agree on. Healthcare is expensive, whether we're talking about drug prices or insurance premiums. It wasn't always like this. The story of how healthcare got this way is the subject of Elisabeth Rosenthal's book “An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take it Back.” I'm always interested in current events, and with the battles over healthcare on the national stage, this book seemed particularly timely.

BookMark: A 'Baker's Dozen' Of Children's Books

Nov 29, 2018


Since 2004, the Pennsylvania Center for the Book has named a Baker’s Dozen of books each year that support family literacy.

The books chosen for the Baker’s Dozen list aim to turn preschool children into lifelong readers and lovers of books. Among the thirteen books chosen this year are “Bulldozer Helps Out” by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann, “I Want That Nut!” by Madeline Valentine and “Who Am I? An Animal Guessing Game” by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page.

Mimi Barash Coppersmith has left an undeniable imprint on State College, Pennsylvania. Whether from her publications like “Town and Gown,” her philanthropies like the Pink Zone, or her civic activities like serving as Penn State’s Board of Trustees chair, Mimi has been a fixture since her arrival as an undergraduate in 1950. 



I read “Beartown” by Fredrik Backman for the first time in the summer of 2017, and I re-read the book this past summer because the sequel was released in July. Both times, I was struck by the language, the characters and the story.

BookMark: "Looking For Alaska" By John Green

Oct 18, 2018

When I was a senior in high school, a girl I dated introduced me to the work of John Green. But it wasn’t a book that she gave me. I was studying for AP European History, and she sent me a link to a Youtube video where John talked about the French Revolution. John Green and his brother, Hank, each post a video every week to a Youtube channel called vlogbrothers. I don’t know how much I realized it when I first started watching the channel, but I really needed something like vlogbrothers.

BookMark: "My Favorite Thing Is Monsters" By Emil Ferris

Oct 4, 2018

Emil Ferris’s 2017 graphic novel “My Favorite Thing is Monsters” is at turns beautiful, haunting and heart wrenching––and it took the comics world by storm. It won 3 Eisner awards in 2018 for best writer/artist, best new graphic album and best coloring. It was also nominated for 3 Ignatz awards in 2017 and a Hugo Award for “Best Graphic Story” in 2018. It may come as no surprise, then, that the Pennsylvania Center for the Book unanimously selected this book for the 2018 Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize.

BookMark: "Moby Dick" By Herman Melville

Sep 6, 2018

In my first teaching interview, I was asked what book I’d most like to teach. Without hesitation, I replied, “Moby Dick.” The interviewer probably thought I was trying to impress him, but it was true. I began teaching “Moby Dick” four years ago, and I hope I’ll be able to continue to teach it for the rest of my career.

I wasn’t the best reader in grades K-7. Most years I was invited to a special class in the summer where we cut out pictures of a C-A-T or an H-O-U-S-E from “Ladies Home Journal” and pasted them on construction paper. Between grades 7 and 8 I discovered a box of comics stashed by my brother when he entered the service. Somehow the text and the pictures magically connected, finally leading to my comprehension of what these strung together letters meant.

BookMark: "Rise of the Necrofauna" By Britt Wray

May 17, 2018

The past few years have seen a veritable flurry of renewed interest in the idea of bringing extinct species back to life. Multiple books, articles and even a few TED talks have each approached the topic from different angles, or focused on different species. A new book on the topic caught my attention, not only for its approach, but also for the almost haunting art that graces its cover: the skull of a woolly mammoth and the head of a wooly mammoth facing each other across a dark background.

BookMark: "Strange Practice" By Vivian Shaw

May 3, 2018

Vivian Shaw’s “Strange Practice” introduces a marvelous new character: Dr. Greta Helsing. Physician to the undead--or differently alive, as Dr. Helsing thinks of her patients--Greta is the most recent iteration of the famous van Helsing family. The family quietly dropped the “van” several generations ago to avoid unnecessary attention from those less inclined to view the undead as good neighbors. 


There are some books I read and don’t think about much afterwards. They just don’t leave a lasting impact.

But “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid stayed with me.

The novel “Spoonbenders” by Daryl Gregory tells the story of a family of psychics… who aren’t doing very well. You’d think a bunch of people with supernatural talents could use them to get ahead in life, but the three adult siblings in the Telemachus family are instead constantly stymied by their powers.