What We Read, Watched and Listened to this Summer

Autumn is upon us, and as we all head back to school, break out our sweaters and decide on Halloween costumes, let’s take a moment to reflect on what the staff at the Waltham Public Library read, watched and listened to this summer. If you like what you see, chances are we can get a copy for you at the library in print, on audio CD, On DVD/Blu-ray, digitally through Libby by Overdrive, Hoopla or Kanopy, or on one of our circulating Rokus!

What We Read


Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir Situation by Hannah Gadsby
I read the hardcover, but it’s also available on Libby. Having watched Gadsby’s Netflix special “Nanette,” I was especially interested to read this book, which is part memoir and part origin story of the show. (For anyone who hasn’t seen “Nanette,” I highly recommend it… it’s funny and moving and devastating and it will punch you in the gut. Gadsby’s follow up Netflix special, “Douglas,” is also very good, with a bit less punching.) The book is very much written in Gadsby’s voice, and I enjoyed reading her take on growing up in rural Tasmania, though there were certainly parts that were difficult to read about. The creation of “Nanette” was also quite interesting, though that part of the book felt a bit more procedural and less like a narrative… though I suppose that makes sense. Either way, it was a good read, and it made me stay up far too late watching clips of her standup on YouTube.

“You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!” And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People by Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura A. Jacobs
I spotted this title on the front page of Libby, and with the amount of anti-trans legislation that’s been in the news lately, I thought it would be good to educate myself on the topic. Written by a psychotherapist and psychiatrist, the book examines 21 myths about the transgender community and unpacks them using medical, social, psychological, and political lenses. It reads a bit scholarly and dry in places, but for the most part it tackles the myths and misconceptions expertly, and I definitely learned a lot. 

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

The Maid by Nita Prose

Defending Jacob by William Landay

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill


Extasia by Claire Legrand
Amity has grown up in a town where women are taught that they are the cause of all evil, and that their town holds the only survivors of a great war. Our narrator soon discovers that she has been lied to her entire life, and must decide what to do about it. This was an interesting horror/speculative fiction/fantasy novel, but it was quite long. ON a positive note, there was lesbian representation. 

The Origins of Iris by Beth Lewis
Running from her abusive wife, Iris meets herself in a remote cabin in the woods. This version of herself made different choices. While I kept reading because I wanted to know what happened, I found the characters to be kind of flat. 

The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin by Kip Wilson
This novel written in verse takes place as Hitler is coming to power in Germany in the early 30s. It focused on what it would have been like for members of the queer community, and was a quick read. 


Heaven by Mieko Kawakami
This novel is about a boy getting bullied in school because he has a lazy eye. The bullying grows increasingly more violent and unrelenting, which was truly very difficult to read at times. It also causes the protagonist to experience pretty significant depression, so content warnings for both of those things. He befriends a classmate who is also getting bullied, and the novel is mostly about this friendship, and the different ways the two process what’s happening to them, and what that means about the kind of people they are. “Enjoy” is definitely the wrong word to use here, but I was moved by the reflective writing, and I also appreciate how completely different it is from Kawakami’s first novel, Breasts and Eggs.

Joan is Okay by Weike Wang
I have a “no pop culture about Covid-19” policy, but I made an exception for Weike Wang after loving her first novel, Chemistry, and I’m glad I did. This novel is about Joan, an ICU doctor at a busy hospital in Manhattan who’s really devoted to her job, to the extent that whenever she’s forced to take time off, she immediately tries to sign up for coworkers’ shifts. I enjoy Weike Wang’s writing style a lot, and particularly enjoy reading novels told from the perspective of someone who thinks really differently than I do. For example, a colleague complains to Joan at one point about feeling like a “cog in the machine” at work, and Joan is completely mystified by this because feeling like a cog in a machine is her idea of an ideal experience. The book is full of similar musings. She’s very abrupt and pretty funny without necessarily meaning to be, as she navigates the pressure from people around her, primarily her Chinese family, to conform to their ideas of what a successful woman should be – married, with kids, and a life outside of work. Also, if the fact that the novel features Covid-19 is a turn-off, I should note that it’s very much incidental to the plot, and the pandemic doesn’t even begin until like 3/4 of the way through.

Circe by Madeline Miller
This was an enchanting reading experience that swept me away. The character of Circe was so compelling and I had a lot of fun waiting to see what encounters with iconic figures from Greek mythology she was going to have next. (If you feel intimidated by her novels because you’re not familiar with Greek mythology, you don’t have to be! You don’t need to have any prior knowledge – it’s very readable and easy to follow.)

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
So glad to have finally read this after years of hearing great things. Just as funny and engaging as everyone says it is, and I love that his memoir is a tribute to his mother.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews
This harrowing novel is based on a true story of a group of Mennonite women in Bolivia who, after frequently waking up bruised for several years and being told the cause was demons punishing them for sinning, discover that the actual cause was a group of men drugging and assaulting them in the night. The structure of the novel is fascinating, because it’s told entirely through the “minutes” of their secret meetings as they discuss, and often argue about, what they’re going to do. Are they going to fight or punish these men, flee, or do nothing? The narrator is a man in the colony present at these meetings to take the minutes, because the women don’t know how to read or write. This was a bit grating at times, partly because he has a crush on one of the women, and will sometimes interrupt the minutes to write his reactions to what she’s saying. Other than that, I really enjoyed this (and am excited for the movie adaptation coming out at the end of the year).


The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Britt Bennett is now two for two. I first read her book “The Vanishing Half” and I loved it. Now, with “The Mothers”, I have two top rated books to recommend. In this book, we are looking at mother daughter relationships with one main female character, Nadia Turner, whose mother committed suicide. Then we have her friend, Aubrey, whose mother allowed her stepfather to abuse her. There is also a sort of Greek chorus, a plural group of mothers from the church who tell us their point of view. Nadia is trying to navigate her life, her loves, an unplanned pregnancy, college, and, really who she is. This is a beautifully written book that is well worth the read.

Lure by Lane Milburn
This graphic novel has the most gorgeous illustrations. The story is also amazing. Three artists are chosen to go to Lure, a planet that is habitable to humans. They are creating an art installation for their corporate sponsor. The question: can this sponsor be trusted? We also learn about the artists’ personal lives, their loves and losses. I don’t want to give any spoilers here, so will leave this here. This is a sumptuous feast of a graphic novel with a great plot.

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
I have to give this book a mixed review. At the same time, I could not put it down. I really enjoyed the author’s description of “the paper palace” , a set of aging cabins where Elle Bishop’s family vacations every summer. Her imagery of the flora and fauna of the Cape, the ponds, the oceans, the landscape are so vivid that you can see them and practically touch them. There are two time frames being presented in this novel, a twenty four hour fateful period….Elle has cheated on her husband with a lifelong friend and must decide whether to stay in her marriage or to go with Jonas, her lifelong friend. We follow Elle’s life and learn about her mother, Wallace (an awesome, feisty character!), her father (a less awesome, less feisty character), her sister Anna (feisty, incredible), and her grandparents. There are some pieces of the book that I found decidedly unsatisfactory and I can not describe them without revealing things that I want you to discover for yourself. This book is worth reading for description of place and character development. Some of the plot lines I would like to see changed to suit my taste but I am sure that there are plenty of people who would disagree with me on this point. This is worth your time despite some hiccups. 

Laughing All The Way To The Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz
Hilarious! Beautifully written! A memoir that is fun and creative! Nawaz writes beautiful, witty chapters and is a natural born storyteller. She questions her culture in a loving way and seems to have a genius for seeing the beauty that is there; community, spirituality, cultural history. She is a successful journalist, author, content creator, and actress. Nawaz lives and works in Canada and I am officially a fan.

Maus II by Art Spiegelman
This is a Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel that was recently banned in the state of Tennessee. Therefore, there is a huge waiting list at the moment. I read part 2 and am still on the waiting list for book 1. Spiegelman rightly claims that, although this is a book about the Holocaust, it is also a tale of a father/son relationship. The illustrations are incredible. The story is very moving. This book is worth the read.

Calypso by David Sedaris
Believe it or not, this is my first book by David Sedaris. His essays are beautifully written and they are funny. The author takes us through England, Tokyo and North Carolina. He describes his relationship with his family, his partner, Hugh. Sadly, his sister Tiffany, who lived in Somerville, committed suicide, and he writes about this as well. His scenes of shopping for new clothes that are made to look old and damaged in Tokyo are hilarious. He writes very lovingly about his relationship with his father who is now in his nineties. This is an uplifting, fun read, despite the suicide of his sister, and I recommend this highly. 

Me And My Shadows by Lorna Luft
This is a really fun and interesting read by the second daughter of Judy Garland. Ms. Luft tells us about what it was like to grow up with Judy Garland as a mom, the highs and the lows of her childhood. She also talks about life after her mother’s death; her sister Liza’s difficulties and her own career and marriages. Lots of great pictures of the family as well.

Judy Garland: The Secret Life Of An American Legend by David Shipman 
A very detailed and interesting biography of Judy Garland. Lots of great pictures as well!

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
Maggie Shipstead tells a very moving story of Joan, a ballerina who knows that she will not be one of the greats. Joan gets pregnant and gets married. She becomes a ballet teacher. Her son and his best friend both become ballet dancers and the story is compelling and interesting. This book had me interested from the first paragraph to the end. Note: I read another book by Shipstead about a year ago called “Seating Arrangements” which I also would recommend highly.


Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
The setup of this plot took forever (3/4 of the book) and then suddenly things were weird and then it was over.


Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca
A gripping novella told through transcriptions of a few months worth of posts on an online forum and an instant message chats about a sapphic BDSM relationship set in a (nostalgic!) 2000. CW: for body horror. 

Winter In Sochko by Elisa Shua Duaspin
A very sultry slow burn story. It’s beautifully written and manages to say a lot without saying much at all. 

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
I love Ocean Vuong’s writing and this collection of poetry is a beautiful follow up to his earlier works. This book fits neatly with the rest of his collection; dealing with themes like family, love, loss, and the passage of time. 

Portrait of a Mirror by A. Natasha Joukovsky
A modern re-imagining of the myth of narcissus told through two interwoven wealthy millennial professional creative couples. It’s messy and witty and pretty delightful. 

Jen C

Dreadful Company: A Dr. Greta Helsing Novel by Vivian Shaw


Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
I was intrigued by the format of the story, which relies upon emails, letters, and little bit of narration. The story quickly captured my attention, and I spent an entire vacation day by the pool devouring the book. As a Washington State native, the references to the Greater Seattle Area reminded me of home. And like Bernadette, my husband also works at Microsoft, so I was very amused by all of the Microsoft references (I would consider the company to be a solid secondary character in this story). I would recommend this book to any one that likes comedies featuring nosey neighbors and PTA mom drama. I can’t wait to watch the movie!

What We Listened To


Abandoned America hosted by Matthew Christopher
Ever since I was a kid and gawked at the old mills, train stations, and asylums that dotted my hometown and its environs, I’ve been fascinated by abandoned buildings. Knowing that, my husband sent me a link to this podcast, and I’ve been enjoying listening to the three-part episode on state hospitals. The hosts provide a brief history of how mental illness has been treated over the centuries, then discuss the role the hospitals played and why they’re now abandoned. As with most podcasts, I could do with a bit less of the random banter between the hosts, but the actual content has been fascinating. You can find this podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.


Authentic: The Story of Tablo presented by Vice and iHeart Podcast Network
If you’re familiar with Korean hip hop group Epik High, you probably already know Tablo’s story, but this 10 part series from VICE and iHeart Podcast Network does an incredible job of detailing it from start to present. For those who aren’t familiar, Tablo was at the height of his career when an internet forum post accusing him of faking his college degrees went viral and sparked a truly wild conspiracy that changed his life. In the words of host Dexter Thomas Jr., “The entire story is this weird mix of hip-hop, fraud, and a QAnon-level conspiracy theory that ruined lives and put people in jail, because people didn’t believe a rapper who said he went to Stanford.” Even if you’ve never heard of Epik High, this podcast is worth a listen. And once you’re done with that, you can check out Epik High’s two most recent albums, Epik High Is Here 上 (Part 1) and Epik High Is Here 下 (Part 2 ). Most of their discography is on Spotify and a handful of albums are on Freegal. 


Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown, read by the author
I’ve been a member of the Brené Brown fan club for over a decade now – this is the third book of hers I’ve read, and I’ve also watched her TED talk, Netflix special, and listen to her podcast. Because she’s a researcher, her books are based on data, and so I get a lot more out of them than I have from similar books by other authors I’ve tried to read. She mostly researches shame, vulnerability, and empathy, and what her findings have taught her about how human beings connect with one another. I mainly listen to her work on audio, because I love her simultaneously gentle and “no nonsense” way of communicating (she’s from Texas, which she talks about a lot). I loved this book and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say her body of work has changed my life for the better.

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chang, read by Catherine Ho
In this novel, an overwhelmed woman leaves her baby alone for a few hours to get some time to herself, gets caught, and then is sent to a government reform school with other “bad” mothers, at the end of which a decision will be made as to whether she can retain custody of her child. For the first couple of hours of the audiobook, I felt invested in the story and enraged on her behalf. However, once she actually got to the school, I found the story started getting quite repetitive and reductive. Ultimately, I was disappointed!

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, read by Carey Mulligan
This novel is about Nora, a 30-something woman for whom everything seems to be going wrong, and her discovery of the Midnight Library, a realm that exists between life and death which holds books that each carry an alternate life she could have lived, had she made different decisions. She has the opportunity to explore as many alternative lives as she wants, which affect how she perceives the life she wanted to leave behind. I didn’t think it was bad, necessarily, just definitely not for me. The second I feel a novelist is blatantly trying to teach me an Important Life Lesson, I kind of check out. It’s just not why I read fiction! The best thing about it for me was that Carey Mulligan narrated the audiobook, and did a great job.

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy, read by the author
This memoir by former child actress Jennette McCurdy, most known for her role in the Nickelodeon show iCarly, was a tough and heartbreaking read but also impossible to put down. It’s impactful, blunt, unapologetic, and dryly funny at times (I recommend it on audio – her narration is great). It’s a really big deal that Jennette McCurdy was able to write this. I think many readers will walk away with an appreciation for all the grueling work it took for her to get to a place that made naming and sharing her truth possible. I hope it helps other people with abusive parents, and I hope it leads to some much-needed discussion in the entertainment industry on the exploitation of child performers. Trigger warnings for child abuse and detailed discussion about several eating disorders.

Jen C

Strange Practice: A Dr. Greta Helsing Novel by Vivian Shaw, read by Suzannah Hampton

Grave Importance: A Dr. Greta Helsing Novel by Vivian Shaw, read by Suzannah Hampton


Stories From The Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana, read by the author and Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Nile Bullock, Dominic Hoffman, DePre Owens, André Santana, Bahni Turpin, and Jade Wheeler
I am listening to this book right now and it is really great. The narration is wonderful and the characters, who all live in the Banneker Homes, a low income high rise in Harlem, are all struggling to make their lives better. This book is definitely well written and worth the read.


The Switch by Beth O’Leary, read by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Alison Steadman 
Cute, light, fluffy.

How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide by Crystal Marie Fleming, read by Melanie Taylor
Most approachable anti-racism book I’ve read yet! 


Kenobi: Star Wars Legends by John Jackson Miller, read by Jonathan Davis
If you like Star Wars and you were a fan of the Disney Obi-Wan Kenobi series, you will love this book. The audiobook is particularly well produced and features lightsaber, blaster, and other sound effects. The plots stands on its own and also adds another dimension to Obi-Wan’s character. Even though these earlier books are no longer considered cannon since Disney purchased Star Wars, nothing in the story contradicts the new material. I highly recommend this book.

What We Watched


Our Flag Means Death created by David Jenkins
Streaming on HBO Max
If you are not watching this series about very gay pirates starring Taika Waititi, you do not know what your missing. 

The Lost City directed by Aaron and Adam Nee
Not the kind of movie I would see if Sandra Bullock wasn’t in it. That being said, I thought it was very funny. 

Love, Classified directed by Stacey N. Harding
Streaming on Hallmark Movies Now
If a cheesy Hallmark movie has a lesbian character, you bet I’m going to watch it. This was the least disappointing one so far, with a very sweet story. 


The Dropout created by Elizabeth Meriwether
Streaming on Hulu
I had mixed feelings going into this one, but I ended up really enjoying it. Amanda Seyfried’s performance as Elizabeth Holmes was chilling!

Everything Everywhere All at Once directed by Daniels
I’m so glad I saw this movie in theaters. A truly special experience to have shared with a very responsive audience. Funny, delightful, and surprisingly moving. Michelle Yeoh was incredible!

Alice Júnior directed by Gil Baroni
Streaming on Netflix
A very fun and sparkly Brazilian teen movie with a trans main character who wants her first kiss. I thought this was adorable, and especially loved that Alice has such a loving and supportive father. I do have to include trigger warnings for some upsetting transphobia, but it never felt voyeuristic.

Turning Red directed by Domee Shi
Streaming on Disney+
I haven’t loved a Pixar movie this much in years! So fun and the ending genuinely surprised me in a great way. I’m definitely biased because I was a teenager in the early 2000s when this movie took place, and I thought it captured that time really well.

Torch Song Trilogy directed by Paul Bogart
I love watching older movies and I usually don’t include them here, but I had to make an exception for this one because it’s criminally underrated! This is a 1988 film about a gay man and drag queen wanting love in NYC in the 70s. It’s based on a collection of three plays by Harvey Fierstein, who also wrote and stars in this movie. He was dynamite in this, his character Arnold’s relationship with his mother (played by the wonderful Anne Bancroft) made me laugh and also sob, and this is now my favorite Matthew Broderick role. I’m so grateful it’s available on DVD through the Minuteman Library Network, as it’s now one of my all-time favorite queer movies.

Petite Maman directed by Céline Sciamma
Céline Sciamma’s latest film has cemented her place as one of my all-time favorite directors. I can’t adequately describe how moving I found this! If you’ve enjoyed her previous work, please check out this beautiful film about mother-daughter relationships, grief, and childhood. It was pure magic.

A League of their Own created by Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson
Streaming on Amazon Prime
This TV adaptation of the beloved 90s movie took a couple of episodes to get into a nice groove, but after that I thought it was a lot of fun. So much careful thought went into the changes they made from the original, and for the most part, they really nailed it. I particularly loved how they adapted iconic moments from the movie (such as the “There’s no crying in baseball!” line) in ways that made sense for the new version, but still paid homage to the original. Also, and best of all, this version is not subtle about its queer content! Episode 6 in particular was beautifully done, and Rosie O’Donnell’s brief cameo made me tear up.

Bodies Bodies Bodies directed by Halina Reijn
I have a bone to pick with movie trailers, because I feel they often make movies look terrible, particularly comedies. This was so fun!


Judy: The Movie directed by Rupert Goold
Streaming on Kanopy
This is a great film starring Renee Zellweger as Judy. This film documents the last year of her life. 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn directed by Elia Kazan
I read the Betty Smith novel “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” many years ago and absolutely loved the story of Francie Nolan, her lovable but alcoholic father Johnny, her brother Neely and her hard working mother Katy. The movie features Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, Johnny Dunn and is a really lovely thing to watch. Highly recommended.

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