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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Books We Loved in 2020

A lot of us had lofty reading goals when 2020 began, but the truth is that sometimes we didn't feel much like reading. (And that's okay!) Binge-watching mindless television or baking away our troubles took precedence at times. Eventually though, we found our way back to the balm of books: books to take our minds off things, books to soothe the soul, books that showed us worlds 10,000 times better (or worse!) that our current situation. We offer the following selection of MLC staff's favorite books read in the last year. Many were published in 2020, but you'll find classics here as well. Scroll through to find well-loved books in a variety of genres for all ages. Once you're done, let us know what you loved reading in 2020 in the comments.

Comics/Graphic Novels

  • The Daughters of Ys
    M.T. Anderson and Jo Rioux (2020)
  • When Stars Are Scattered
    Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (2020)
    "Even though this graphic novel memoir is aimed at middle grade readers, people of all ages will be drawn to its themes of hope, resilience, and familial love."
  • Harleen
    Stjepan Šejić (2020)

  • They Called Us Enemy
    George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker (2019)
  • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me
    Rosemary Valero-O'Connell and Mariko Tamaki (2019)
    "Learning how to respect yourself and not lose yourself when you're in a romantic relationship with someone else--this book nails it."
  • Are You Listening?
    Tillie Walden (2019)
    "Genuine human connections and a mysterious cat. I was completely entranced."
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker
    Jen Wang (2018)

Adult Fiction

  • Anxious People
    Fredrik Backman (2020)
    "It’s the world’s worst hostage situation with the world’s most neurotic hostages. Backman does a wonderful job exploring what make people PEOPLE. The book clips along at a wonderful pace and just about every other chapter has a reveal that makes you re-evaluate everything you’ve read so far."
  • Wish You Well
    David Baldacci (2000)
    "I read a lot of David Baldacci this year, but this one had a particular message for me."
  • Battleground 
  • Peace Talks
    Jim Butcher (2020)
    "I have been reading a lot of escapism--no-thought, sci-fi pulp--but the back to back release of the two Dresden File books was high on my list of best moments."
    "I have been reading this series since the early 2000s and Jim Butcher is one of my favorite authors."
  • The Girl in the Mirror
    Rose Carlyle (2020)
    "One of the best twisty mystery/thriller novels I read this year."
  • And Then There Were None
    Agatha Christie (1939)
  • Ring Shout
    P. Djèlí Clark
    "Alternate history considering the idea that hate turns people into actual monsters that are only perceptible to the few who fight them. Unsettling."
  • Piranesi
    Susanna Clarke (2020)
    "Piranesi’s always lived in the House…until one day, somebody else shows up. This is a weird little atmospheric fantasy book about being alone but not being alone, being trapped but not being trapped, and making the most of your surroundings. So you know, the perfect 2020 quarantine read."
  • The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In
    Charles Dickens (1844)
    "My husband and I started 2020 by reading this as an audiobook while sitting in front of our fire pit on New Year's Eve. I count it, because we didn't finish until around 1:30 AM. I had always meant to read it and that just seemed like the perfect time."

  • Leopard's Wrath
    Christine Feehan (2019)
  • The Guest List
    Lisa Foley (2020)
    "A modern-day take on Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None set on an Irish island. I binge-read this."
  • Into the Drowning Deep
    Mira Grant (2017) 
  • Snow Falling on Cedars
    David Guterson (1994)
  • An Anonymous Girl
    Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (2019)
  • Beach Read
    Emily Henry (2020)
    "When I was stuck in a reading slump, this book pulled me back out by the hair. Its story, at times heartbreakingly sweet and poignant, led me from cover to cover until I was at the end and wishing it would never be over."
  • The Bone Tree
  • Mississippi Blood
  • Natchez Burning
    Greg Iles (2015, 2017, 2014)
    "In my ongoing effort to read and become familiar with the works of Mississippi authors, I enjoyed several books in the Penn Cage series by Greg Iles set in the Natchez area (Port Gibson to the southwest corner of Wilkinson County). Iles's characters in these books are both intricate and audacious, spanning the concepts of both good and evil. These larger than life stories are surely "must reads" for anyone who wants to be familiar with one of the state's "to be treasured" authors. Who would think that an attempt to do the right thing would foster so very many evil actions by demoniac individuals acting singularly and in groups? During this time of isolation due to the pandemic, these three titles helped this reader to temporarily forget the stress of the virus."

  • The City We Became
    N.K. Jemisin (2020)
    "Jemisin really showed in this book that she can not only do high fantasy but is also adept at contemporary fantasy. The modern characters and setting crackle with life and wit, and the story itself pulled me taut with excitement and anticipation the entire time I was reading."

  • The Only Good Indians
    Stephen Graham Jones (2020)
    "This was a good year for horror, exemplified by none other than this book, which expertly tackles both the genre and the societal issues surrounding Native American culture. This tale is gripping, terrifying, and one I wish I could erase from my brain so I could have the pleasure of reading it for the first time again."
    "Great exploration on how our past haunts us."

  • Chasing Cassandra
  • It Happened One Autumn
    Lisa Kleypas (2020, 2005)

  • The Historian
    Elizabeth Kostova (2005)
    "I go back and listen to this audiobook every couple of years. It is such a good story and well put together."

  • Thalmaturge
    Terry Mancour (2019)
  • Pale Fire
    Vladimir Nabokov (1962)
    "Worth the hype."

  • Witch World
  • Web of the Witch World
  • Three Against the Witch World
    Andre Norton (1963, 1964, 1965)
    "I read a lot of new biographies and memoirs this year, but I got the most enjoyment from rereading an old series of books that I read as a child. Andre Norton's Witch World series first caught my attention when I was in the fifth grade, and I rejoiced every time I found a new book in it."

  • What Are You Going Through
    Sigrid Nunez (2020)
    "The Friend was better, but this was also good."

  • Moon of the Crusted Snow
    Waubgeshig Rice (2018)
    "A small town/tribal community is cut off from society for an unknown reason and must rely on their ancestors' knowledge to survive. Timely."

  • The Black Swan of Paris
    Karen Robards (2020)
    "A historical fiction WWII spy novel that delivered and made me sad when it was over."

  • Normal People
    Sally Rooney (2018)

  • The Wise Man's Fear
    Patrick Rothfuss (2011)

  • The Perfect Guests
    Emma Rous (2021)
    "I loved the flashing back and forth between the present and the past while the book got closer and closer to revealing the truth about a wealthy family."

  • Home Before Dark
    Riley Sager (2020)

  • Elephant Man
    Christine Sparks (1980)

  • The Sun Down Motel
    Simone St. James (2020)
    "A ghost story in an old and creepy roadside motel. Yes, please."

  • No Rest for the Restless
    R.W. Stone (2020)
    "First western I've read. Really enjoyed it and will read more."

  • The Past is Never
    Tiffany Quay Tyson (2018)

  • The Bourbon Kings 
  • Consumed
    J.R. Ward (2015, 2018)

  • Mobius
    Garon Whited (2019)

Adult Nonfiction

  • The Worst Journey in the World
    Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1922)
    "Being in the Antarctic SUCKS and Cherry-Garrard does a wonderful job explaining how. This wonderful exploration of Robert Scott’s ill-fated polar expedition is a combination of the author’s memories and diary entries from other members of the expedition. It’s a little heavy at times, but so worth it."
  • Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed
    Lori Gottlieb (2019)
  • As the Last Lead Falls: A Pagan's Perspective on Death, Dying, and Bereavement
    Kristoffer Hughes (published as The Journey into Spirit in 2014)
    "I listened to a presentation the author did about his work in May and I immediately ordered his book. It was really one of the most beautiful views of death and his pagan rituals surrounding it."
  • My Trip Down the Pink Carpet
    Leslie Jordan (2008)
  • Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family
    Robert Kolker (2020)
    "After listening to a podcast by Shellie and Tracy, I read Tracy's recommendation of Hidden Valley Road. I enjoy nonfiction, and I have to agree with Tracy that it was one of my favorite books for the year."
  • Greenlights
    Matthew McConaughey (2020)
    "The audiobook is amazing since Matthew is doing his own reading for you. You can hear him smile as he reads his life stories out loud. It's simply an awesome memoir with a positive way to look at life and how best to catch those "greenlights in life" and not let the yellow and red lights slow you down. I rate it five "warm and fuzzy" stars."
  • I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
    Michelle McNamara (2018)
    "When I heard that HBO was making a six-part documentary series based on the book of the same name, I decided to read the book. Knowing that the author died before finishing the book gives the reader an added layer of context. You feel the desperation of the author to come so close to discovering the killer only to have passed away before knowing her work would result in the capture of a decades long predator. Maybe not the best for reading before bed, but a strong read for those that like true crime."
  • Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era
    Jerry Mitchell (2020)
  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
    Trevor Noah (2016)
  • Erebus: The Story of a Ship
    Michael Palin (2018)
    "This is a fun, easy-to-read history book about HMS Erebus, the British naval vessel who had a tour of the Antarctic and later mysteriously vanished in the Arctic! Palin’s narrative voice is super fun and you get such a wonderful view of this ship’s history and all the places she went."
  • The Order of Time
    Carlo Rovelli (2017)
  • Open Book
    Jessica Simpson (2020)
  • Arcadia
    Tom Stoppard (1993)
  • The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love
    Sonya Renee Taylor (2018)
  • Memorial Drive
    Natasha Trethewey (2020)
    "Devastatingly gorgeous, this just made me want to hug my momma close." 

Picture Books

  • Stick and Stone
    Beth Ferry and Tom Lictenheld (2015)
    "Simple, yet detailed artwork tells a story of friendship."
  • Looking Out for Sarah
    Glenna Lang (2001)
    "Beautifully illustrated story about a seeing-guide dog and his day-to-day tasks. Based on a real pup and person. Plus there is a dog. :)"
  • We Are Water Protectors
    Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goada (2020)
    "The art is stunning . The story is equally good and pairs well with the illustrations."
  • Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
    Juana Martinez-Neal and Kevin Noble Maillard (2019)
    "I love fry bread. This book is a celebration of that delectable treat and of the indigenous people across North America who make it."
  • Unicorn Day
    Diana Murray and Luke Flowers (2019)
    "Chaotic artwork, but in a good way. A delightful tale of acceptance."
  • In Our Mothers' House
    Patricia Polacco (2009)
    "I love Patricia Polacco and this book, showcasing a lesbian couple and their adopted children, gave me all the warm and fuzzy feels."
  • My Papi Has a Motorcycle
    Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña (2019)
    "A celebration of father-daughter love and of the importance of community."
  • The Most Magnificent Thing
    Ashley Spires (2014)
    "A great picture book about emotions and creating things. Plus, there is a dog. :)"
  • Coming on Home Soon
    Jacqueline Woodson and James E. Ransome (2001) 
  • Visiting Day
    Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis (2004)
    "Both of these super sweet books focus on children who live with their grandmothers while their parent is away. I ached for them when they missed their parent--one in prison, the other far away working--but I basked in the glow of that grandmotherly love."
  • William's Doll
    Charlotte Zolotow and William Pène du Bois (1972)
    "William knows what he wants and what he wants is a doll. Smashing gender stereotypes back in the 70s!"

Middle Grade


  • The Girl and the Ghost
    Hanna Alkaf (2020)
    "I adored this Malaysian ghost tale: a girl inherits a ghost from her grandmother, setting her off on a fascinating quest."
  • Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe
    Jo Watson Hackl (2018)
    "A girl in a Mississippi ghost town named Cricket searches for a secret room her mother told her about. Well-researched."
  • Indian No More
    Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell (2019)
    "Set in the mid-1950s, Indian No More tells the true story of a young girl from the Umpqua tribe. When the US government terminates her tribe, her immediate family moves to California and starts a new, very different, life."
  • The Bad Beginning
    Lemony Snicket (1999)
    "I used to love these books and it turns out I still do. I reread all of them this year, but I'm just going to list the first one."


  • The Night Country
    Melissa Albert (2020)

  • The Darkest Part of the Forest
    Holly Black (2015)
  • Clown in a Cornfield
    Adam Cesare (2020)
    "Like reading an 80s slasher film."
  • These Shallow Graves
    Jennifer Donnelly (2015)
  • Copper Sun
    Sharon Draper (2006)
  • Pet
    Akwaeke Emezi (2019)
    "Just because you pretend something is gone doesn't mean it's so."
  • Come Tumbling Down
    Seanan McGuire (2020)
    "Every year, I eagerly await the next book in the Wayward Children series. This year's installment was one of the best yet. I just want to hug these books, I love them so much."
  • Prophecy 
  • Warrior
  • King
    Ellen Oh (2013, 2013, 2015)
  • Witch Child
    Celia Rees (2000)
  • Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All
    Laura Ruby (2019)
    "I love a good, non-scary ghost story and this historical mystery was amazing."

We hope you discovered a few books to read in 2021, whether they're old favorites are brand new. Until next time, happy reading!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Read With Welty: Southern Sideboards

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week Twelve: Southern Sideboards by the Junior League of Jackson

There is almost nothing on this planet that I love more than a cookbook, but two factors make my love grow exponentially: one, if it is from another era, and two, if it is a community cookbook, with recipes submitted from a variety of people. The Junior League of Jackson’s 1978 classic Southern Sideboards fits the bill.

I’m looking for something delicious, but truth be told, I’m looking for something disgusting, too. Part of the fun of an old cookbook is laughing at what someone thought was good. Bonus points are awarded for things that are dated, like pretty much anything involving gelatin and a mold. Look, maybe aspic is delicious. I’ll never know. Same goes for any dish that calls for a jar of dried beef. It is just not going to happen.

Mississippi author Wyatt Cooper wrote the introduction, and that is how you know that Southern Sideboards is something special: who wrote the introduction to your grandma’s community cookbook? (Probably no one, and probably not someone who was married to Gloria Vanderbilt and was Anderson Cooper’s dad.) Cooper muses on what makes food Southern, his own poor cooking skills (he says his sons politely decline his peanut butter sandwiches), but he ends with an anecdote about his uncle, who was looking for romance after the death of his wife. He really had one qualification for the role, summed up thusly: “The huggin’ and kissin’ don’t last forever. The cookin’ do.”

Welty contributed to Southern Sideboards with her delicious sounding Onion Pie recipe, which reads like poetry. I can only imagine that it tastes like poetry as well:

Some of the cookin’ (or at least assemblin’) that I look forward to taking on soon include this recipe, which wins the Awesome Name award:

Velvet Hammer
– submitted by Frank M. Duke

1 blender vanilla ice cream
2 ounces brandy
1 ounce Cointreau
½ ounce banana liqueur

Place ingredients in blender. Turn to medium speed. Mix to pouring consistency. Serve immediately in champagne glasses. Serves 4-6.

Southern Sideboards can be hard to find, but let us know if one of these recipes appeals to you and we can get you the full information:

Shrimp on Crackers
Emerald Soup
Congealed Broccoli
Mayonnaise Muffins
Mystery Casserole
Swiss Enchiladas
Impossible Pie

I hope you’ve enjoyed our Read with Welty reading challenge, and I hope next time you’re looking for something to read, you’ll consider one our selections from Welty’s home library. You can curl up with a champagne glass full of Velvet Hammer, a plate (or bowl? who knows) of Mystery Casserole, and read to your heart’s delight.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Read With Welty: The Age of Innocence

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week Eleven: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Part of the appeal of reading is the sheer escape from the reader’s real life, and books where entire worlds are spun and described are the very best for this kind of immersive escapism. While usually books that create their own worlds fit this bill, Edith Wharton’s novels, The Age of Innocence in particular, let us completely become enveloped in the Gilded Age. The rules, the traditions, the rituals—especially those of upper class New York at the turn of the century—seem as fantastical and far away as Narnia or Middle-earth.

I’ve written before in this blog post series that just because Eudora Welty owned a book doesn’t tell us if she liked it or even read it, but I can say with semi-confidence that Welty was probably a big fan of Edith Wharton. She had several Wharton novels, story collections, and biographies in her home library (including a couple Library of America versions; Welty would become the first living writer to have their works published by the Library of America).

While The Age of Innocence is very much about society, class, and expectations, it is also about love and missed opportunities. If you’re in the mood for a period romance that will make you cry a little this holiday season, try it out, or at least try the movie version, which is available free via PlutoTV.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Read With Welty: In the Land of Dreamy Dreams

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

If you haven’t read Ellen Gilchrist’s 1981 collection of short stories, In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, I envy you. This was Gilchrist’s first collection of stories and in it, she introduces us to characters she’d return to in future stories. In “Revenge,” we meet Rhoda Manning for the first time. Rhoda, who we can perhaps read as a Gilchrist stand-in, appears in dozens more stories at various ages. Don’t get too caught up in the Rhoda canon, though—sometimes details change, and you’re just going to have to deal with it.

Gilchrist’s characters are usually women, sometimes rich, and almost always Southern. In “There’s a Garden of Eden,” she combines all three:

Scores of men, including an ex-governor and the owner of a football team, consider Alisha Terrebone to be the most beautiful woman in the state of Louisiana. If she is unhappy, what hope is there for ordinary mortals? Yet here is Alisha, cold and bored and lonely, smoking in bed.

Not an ordinary bed either. This bed is eight feet wide and covered with a spread made from Alisha’s old fur coats. There are dozens of little pillows piled against the headboard, and the sheets are the color of shells and wild plums and ivory. 
The inscription in Eudora Welty's copy of In the Land of Dreamy Dreams:
For Eudora, who showed me there was a way - Love, Ellen

Gilchrist, who was born in Vicksburg, took a writing class under Eudora Welty at Millsaps. In this interview from Deep South Magazine, Gilchrist explains:

I wrote short stories for Eudora. I wrote her about one a week, and she would edit them and put these beautiful little pencil marks on them, very gentle, very light little pencil marks and I’d get it back and I’d say, ‘Well, that must not be any good,’ and I’d throw it away. I’d never heard about rewriting. There was one that she thought was publishable and I think I published it somewhere. The myths that go around about writers are not really the true stories. I’m telling you some true stories. I had a wonderful time knowing Eudora. She was my mother’s age and they had friends in common and she was just a lovely, lovely lady.

I had the luck of stumbling upon Victory Over Japan, Gilchrist’s National Book Award-winning collection of stories, when I was in high school. I immediately became an Ellen Gilchrist superfan and even wrote my one and only fan letter to Gilchrist a few years later. (Exciting: she wrote back and I framed it!) And years after that, I was giddy with excitement to be close enough to her at a Mississippi Book Festival event to secretly/creepily take a photo of her. I won’t share it here because even creepy superfans have standards. 


Monday, December 7, 2020

Meet MLC Monday: Jessica Parson

Elisabeth Scott
Reference Librarian/Social Media Coordinator

Meet Jessica Parson, Library Services Assistant at the Mississippi Library Commission! Jessica assists in the Library Services Bureau by shelving, wrapping books, filling in at our front desk, and more. She is a proud 2020 Millsaps College graduate.

Jessica began working for MLC in early November. She says, "Everyone here at MLC is so inviting and understanding. Everyone that I met here has made me feel as if I have been a staff member for much longer than a week!" 

Jessica has a lifelong love of libraries. "The majority of my childhood memories are dominated by my times in libraries. There were moments when my aunt would drop my cousins and I off at the library for a few hours while she would run errands, etc. I would always read to pass the time and, surprisingly, kept the habit. Comfort has always been found in a library for me. Libraries are important to me because they are centers for ideas and understanding another person’s mind and humanity via literature."

Jessica loves to read, so much so that she majored in English Literature at Millsaps. She says, "Literature is a never-ending dialogue between the author and the reader." Her favorite books are The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Othello by Shakespeare, and Peau Noire, Masques Blancs by Frantz Fanon. The most recent book that she finished is The Rover by Aphra Behn and she's currently reading William Wycherley’s The Country Wife. She also likes cooking, meditating, painting, film/anime watching, and writing.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Read With Welty: The Remains of the Day

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week Nine: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro 

So far as I can tell, the only link between Eudora Welty and Kazuo Ishiguro is that interviews with them appear in the same issue of a 1991 Mississippi Review—though I’d like to think that a more thorough investigator other than myself would have taken a thoughtful dive into her letters, housed at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, to discover her real feelings about each of the books we’ve chosen for this reading challenge. If that thorough investigator happens to be you, please let us know what you find!

Unless there is a known link between Welty and the author—like with Willie Morris, Ross Macdonald, or Walker Percy—we’re basing a lot of assumptions on the fact that Welty happened to own these books. Did she like them? Did she even read them? If, in some bizarre twist, my books were given to an entity upon my death, and scholars tried to extrapolate meaning and connections from the books I owned, my ghost would have to step in to help those poor fools out. Never read it, meant to read it, someone gave it to me, read it and hated it, read 50 pages and hated it, hated the cover, loved it except for the end and then got very mad—these would be the spooky messages I would have to somehow deposit into my scholars’ minds. (Sidenote: I have spent way too long trying to figure out the best way for a ghost to send a message since ectoplasm is out.)

All of this is to say that we have no idea if Eudora Welty read The Remains of the Day, or if she saw the 1993 movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, but we like to think she did. It’s about a man who lives a small, constrained life as the perfect butler, devoted to the gentleman he served. But as he looks back at his decades of service, and the opportunities he has missed, he starts to doubt whether he has made the right choices. This quiet novel’s subject and themes—tradition, dignity, class, retrospection—aren’t unlike things you’d find in a Welty story or novel, and for that fact alone, we’ve added this book to our reading challenge.

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