Category Archives: dystopias

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

cover art

Nothing to Envy is an inside look at life in North Korea which is revealing, fascinating & a compelling read. Only wish it were updated for this decade.

Availability:  SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Catherine Pell
Rating: Highly Recommended

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

Bonus comment on The Handmaid’s Tale,

A must read – especially if one is intrigued by the subsequent television series, this book is well worth the time to read.

Availability:  SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Catherine Pell
Rating: Must Read
Challenge:  Book to TV

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

I’d been meaning to read the Handmaid’s Tale for a long time, and once the TV show came out I knew I needed to figure out what all the hype was about. The Handmaid’s Tale is terrifying. An absolutely epic portrait of how messed up the world can get in terms of women’s reproductive rights, The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a world in which women’s rights are basically non-existent and everyone is plagued by intense oppression. The scary thing is that, for some people, this is a world that makes sense and is fair, even today. This is a book that will send shivers down your spine if you understand how possible it is, and how well it mirrors some people’s lives.


Availability:  SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Izzy Lott
Rating: Must Read
Challenge:  Book to TV

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451

Despite it being a seminal intro to SciFi prose Fahrenheit 451 has a distinct poetic quality to it. The descriptive nature of Montag’s inner turmoil and his stream of consciousness as he sheds his role as book burner to become a book preserver, slowly revealed his metamorphosis. This glimpse into the dystopic future left me with many ideas to mull over.

Availability: SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Denise Brace nee Lerch (’82)
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Book to film

Staff Picks: Summer Reading 2019 Edition

Summer reading is here, which means some tough decisions about prioritizing those books in your TBR (to be read) pile.  Don’t worry about that–let us recommend some reads for you this summer! It’s time for Staff Picks: Summer Reading Edition!


Title:  On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthonypale horse

Where to find:  SMCM print collection

What it’s about:  Death came for Zane, but instead Zane became Death – by accident. Assuming the mantle of the grim reaper in a world where science and magic co-exist, Zane must work with the other incarnations of immortality (Time, Fate, War, and Nature) to save the woman he loves and defeat the earthy machinations of Satan.

Why to read:  This classic sci-fi/fantasy series (8 books total) is one I re-read every few years, finding something new every time. Anthony creates a fascinating world, and weaves an intricate plotline over the entire course of books, with characters and situations referring to each other back and forth, telling the tale from different perspectives and giving the reader new insights. A great summer read!

firemanAmanda VerMeulen

Title:  The Fireman by Joe Hill

Where to find:  USMAI, Lexington Park Library or Southern MD Regional Libraries

What it’s about:  It’s the end of the world as we know it thanks to a mysterious disease causing people to spontaneously combust and it’s up to a fireman, a pregnant nurse, and a kid to work together to stay alive and solve the mystery.

Why to read:  Post-apocalyptic lit with a surprising science connection from horror author and son of Stephen King, Joe Hill.

Justin Foreman

Title:  In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing by Walter Murchblink of an eye

Where to find:  SMCM print collection

What it’s about:  This is a non-fiction book on the art and craft of film editing authored by Walter Murch, a three-time Oscar winning editor and sound designer.

Why to read:  Interested in learning why the “cut” in film works? Walter Murch eloquently discusses fundamental ideas behind film editing in a very accessible way. He also provides an interesting history of editing innovations, from Steenbeck machines to today’s non-linear editing systems, and stories from films he’s worked on (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, to name a few). This is a great read if you’re a film-buff/student, or love “behind-the-scenes” documentaries about your favorite films.


hungerTitle:  Hunger by Roxane Gay

Where to find:  SMCM Overdrive Collection (eAudiobook), USMAI, Lexington Park Library or Southern MD Regional Libraries

What it’s about:  Roxane Gay, known as a writer, academic, and expert Twitter user, is a successful person by virtually any standard.  However, as a woman of color who has been overweight for most of her life, she has heard relentlessly negative messages about her appearance and place in the world.  Gay’s memoir reflects on broad and specific acts of body shaming from others and the greater society, analyzing the forces that have shaped her life.

Why to read:  Gay’s writing is excellent, and she’s a very insightful memoirist, connecting her unique experiences to the intersections of identity as an overweight, bisexual woman of color and child of Haitian-American parents.  Her honesty makes for both a relief and an incredibly heartbreaking read as Gay identifies the ways society has punished her and the ways she has punished herself.

Bonus pick!

Title:  Lake Success by Gary Shteyngartlake-success

Where to find:  USMAI, Lexington Park Library or Southern MD Regional Libraries

What it’s about:  After leaving New York under ambiguous circumstances, hedge fund manager Barry decides it’s the perfect time for a road trip. Under the pretense of finding his long-lost college love, Barry journeys across the States, encountering the citizens of “real” America and condescendingly trying to make their lives better. Meanwhile, he manages to dodge any responsibility for his shortcomings as a professional and as a father.

Why to read:  A fun and satirical road trip novel, this is a good read for a few laughs in the summer. Readers may appreciate the highly relevant commentary on Wall Street delusion and the insightful reflections on family that balance out the book’s sharp humor. A solid choice for those who prefer their humor slightly bitter.

Need more suggestions?  Keep following the summer reading blog to see what books are keeping other participants busy!

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

I read the first book of the Red Rising series, Red Rising, by Pierce Brown. It is young adult, dystopian, science fiction. It is about Darrow, a miner in the Red caste who was proud to be sacrificing for the good of humanity, but eventually realizes that Reds are really just slaves.

It starts out a little slow, but at about 1/3 in, it became very captivating. I enjoyed the world, caste system, and the characters. Although I enjoyed the story and wondered “what next,” I was never worried about Darrow – I did worry about other characters. I was willing to suspend belief on the results from his medical transformation, but some may not be able to.

I also really enjoyed the references to other books:

  •  “So this kid is what? A predestined Alexander? A Caesar? A Genghis? A Wiggin? I ask.” (I assume this is an Ender’s Game reference)
  • In the third book one of the ship names is Dejah Thoris (I assume this is from the princess in the Warlord of Mars books)

Availability: COSMOS,
Review Submitted by: Andy Ashenfelter
Rating: Highly Recommended (with the caveat that it is YA, so not for everyone)
Challenge: A book with a color in the title

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

Watchmen coverI’ll admit that action comics aren’t exactly my cup of tea. I usually find them to be a bit shallow, especially considering characters that are not cis straight white men. But with Watchmen, there is clearly an attempt to escape the banality of the average action comic, with themes of fate, nuclear war, and the justice system. I was particularly fond of the questions it raised about whether or not humanity ought to be saved. Questions such as that are particularly important in our current political climate. In that sense, Watchmen is a profound graphic novel that remains relevant across decades.

However, Moore’s characters tend to ramble over these questions. One of the main rules of writing dialogue is to keep it sharp and to avoid letting your characters talk for paragraphs on end. It can be boring, and I often find myself skimming over dialogue-heavy moments in both novels and especially in graphic novels. Seriously, show, don’t tell. In the moments where Alan Moore chills out with his dialogue, Dave Gibbons’s art shines in its storytelling. But, one thing that I couldn’t quite get over in this graphic novel was the blatant sexism towards the female characters. Silk Spectre and most other female characters in Watchmen are not allowed to have agency outside of the men they exist around. Perhaps this is because it is often assumed that women are not the main audience of action comics, but I don’t think that’s a good excuse. Proceed with caution.

Availability:  USMAI, COSMOS, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Kimberly Boenig
Rating: Recommended with Reservations
Challenge: Book with a one world title