Sunday, December 10, 2017

Staff Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

When I choose a book for the library book discussion I try to find something outside of my comfort zone. More often than not, I enjoy the book and it makes me more willing to venture outside of my normal reading habits. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, a biography, is one such example. Though I rarely read biographies, Born a Crime has become one my favorite books this year. 

Trevor Noah, the current host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, was born at the tail end of apartheid in South Africa. His mother is black and his father is white. At the time of Trevor's birth, the relationship between his parents was illegal so his birth was actually a crime. 

The stories told by Noah range from incredibly sad to very funny. As a comedian, Noah is able to infuse the sad stories with humor without taking away from the narrative. It is difficult to imagine that as a mixed-race child, Noah's mother wasn't allowed to do something as simple as walk with him to the park. Noah's father was largely absent from his life, leaving him to be raised by his mother and grandmother. To his black Xhosa relatives, Noah was white and white people are treated differently. By his own admission, Noah was a handful, because only his mother would discipline him.  It is clear throughout the book that his mother is quite a force to be reckoned with and though their relationship is, at times, complicated, Noah loves and respects her.

I didn't listen to the audio, but a co-worker told me it is wonderful. Noah is the narrator and I imagine hearing him tell the story of his upbringing, in his own voice, is quite powerful. If you are a fan of The Daily Show, you should read this book. If you've never watched The Daily Show ( me...ahem), this is still a powerful story of someone who never quite fit in, but didn't let that stop him from achieving his dreams. 

~Amy, Adult Services

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Staff Review: We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In 2015 I chose Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates as my best book of the year. It was a difficult book to read given that it tackles -- in a very personal way -- the race problem in America, a problem older than the country itself, its roots going back to the earliest colonial days. What impressed me so was Coates's intellectual vigor and how well he put it to use trying to make sense of the world he and his son inhabit as black males. He's a clear thinker and a clear writer. As brain food alone, the book was a pleasure.

His new book, We Were Eight Years in Power, is even tougher to read. The foundation of the book is a series of essays Coates wrote for The Atlantic magazine, where he is a national correspondent. These well-known essays cover such topics as the making of the first black president, the mass incarceration of blacks, and the strong case for reparations. The essays are strung together with new material, a series of memoir-like pieces relating Coates's thoughts and feelings each year of Obama's presidency, an event that buoyed him considerably, bringing hope for the future.

The book's final piece tackles the election of Donald Trump, a near-fatal blow to Coates's hope for Coates believes that Obama's successor is intent on negating the legacy of the country's first black president. By the time Trump is elected, within the book's trajectory, the reader has been educated on the real stories -- the truths -- of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the exclusion of millions of blacks from the provisions of the New Deal, and the horrific and intentionally broad scope of institutional racism. It was a painful education for me and I wondered why I had never known so much of it before.

Coates concludes his new work in a grim mood, but a hopeful ending would probably ring false. Many Americans aren't feeling very hopeful these days, which brings me to my only quibble with the book, which is Coates's reluctance to consider the enormous impact globalization, deregulation, outsourcing, inflation, automation, monopolistic practices, and a host of other economic and political factors have had on everyone, white, black, and every shade in between. There's an underlying presumption on his part that if you're white, the gravy train's still more or less available to you. Many would beg to differ. But this is indeed a quibble; the plight of whites is not Coates's topic. He does all of us a great and needed service by increasing our awareness of the hard lives of others and reducing at least some of our historical ignorance. Who knows what any of us might do differently if only we knew the whole truth?

~Ann, Adult Services

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Staff Review: Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown - Audio book version

What a trilogy! Wow. It is dark. It is brutal. There are shameful deeds, shocking betrayals, and blood feuds. Wars and reconciliations. Violence and tenderness. This trilogy really covers all areas of human emotion. A friend says it's a cross between Game of Thrones and Hunger Games. I think it also has a dash of Divergent and tiny drop of Harry Potter in there as well. Pierce Brown has created a fascinating world with his Red Rising trilogy.

Darrow grows up as part of a slave race, the Reds. The thing is, they don't realize they are slaves. They think they are doing the hard labor of mining underground on Mars so future generations can come and terraform Mars and create a better future. What the Reds don't know is that they have been lied to.

Tim Gerard Reynolds narrates all three of these books. Reynolds does such a good job portraying the heart of Darrow, our main character, that he seems the perfect person to read these stories. Reynolds hails from Ireland with classical theater training. His strong Irish accent gives the story depth and character and it is pleasing to listen to.

One initial caveat: Reynolds takes on a haughty voice when he narrates the characters who are Golds (the all-powerful group in Darrow's world), "I do say! My good-man!" and to be honest, this threw me right out of the first book and I did not think I could listen if he did this voice continuously. Luckily, this annoyance fades and you get used to the portrayal. The haughtiness and genteelness make sense for the characters he is portraying - the Golds are nothing if not haughty. 

As the books progress, we find Darrow fighting against a whole society of people who would have him remain a slave and will die trying to keep the status quo. Which leads me to one of the things I am most impressed by with these books. This author really knows how people manipulate others to get what they want and how the minds of warlords might plan their strategies. As I listened, I kept being amazed at the ideas and logic the author created for his characters. This first book does spend a lot of time world-building, which can be get old, but then you are thrust into this amazing world suddenly. It keeps you guessing and you don't know who Darrow should trust or who will betray him.You have to hold on tight, it's quite an adventure. 

Once you have made it through this epic trilogy, be on the lookout for Iron Gold, a new book in the Red Rising Universe, considered to be book four of the Red Rising Saga. It is set to be released in January 2018. It begins ten years after the events of book three and is a start to a new trilogy. Hopefully, Carnegie-Stout will have the audio book soon after its release. It too will be narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds.

~Angie, Adult Services

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Staff Review: The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr,204,203,200_.jpg
I know, I know, you've been wondering when a book about writing was finally going to be featured. Well, your long wait is over! The Art of Memoir, by poet and memoirist Mary Karr, is so engaging, it deserves a little time in the spotlight.

Who better to write a book about the memoir genre than the author of The Liar's Club, Cherry, and Lit, a trio of memoirs published between 1995 and 2009 that are said to have re-ignited the genre's popularity, though I imagine The Glass Castle had a little something to do with that as well.

Born into a dysfunctional circus of a family in what she calls the ringworm belt of Texas, Mary Karr's gritty, funny, lively, and irreverent. She's been teaching memoir-writing in Syracuse's MFA program for years. Her book on the craft, The Art of Memoir, will appeal not only to those who want to write a memoir but to those who enjoy reading them as well.

Karr begins each chapter with an intriguing quote and then tackles some aspect of crafting a memoir, from how to approach writing about loved ones to the importance of enlivening your story with lots of sensory detail. I particularly enjoyed her frequent -- and vehement -- insistence that memoirists tell the truth, even if that truth is, by necessity, somewhat subjective.

Karr provides concrete examples of effective technique from a wide variety of fine memoirs, all of which sound so good you'll intend to read every one just as soon as you finish reading her book. Karr kindly includes a handy, six-page Required Reading list of these titles and many more at the end of the book.

If you're in the mood to read even more about the crafts of writing and editing, check out our November display of writing guides, set up by the first-floor Recommendations Desk. The display features dozens of titles, including some of the classics: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, and On Writing Well by William Zinsser. 'Cause the next best thing to writing is reading about it, right?

~Ann, Adult Services

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

#ComicsWednesday: The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill

Greta is a young girl learning the art of blacksmiths. She finds a wounded tea dragon on her way home one day and befriends its owner. Throughout the story, she learns more about tea dragons from Hesekial and Erik.

She becomes close to their ward, Minette, a girl with a mysterious past. The story deals with loss, disability, love, and kindness. The illustrations are gorgeous, with pastel colors and soft lines. This short graphic novel is perfect to read in one sitting.

With whimsical illustrations and a charming story, The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill is a great fall read. It gently explores themes of growing up, caring for others, and doing what you love. This graphic novel was originally published as a webcomic, which is free to read online, and it made the transition to print beautifully.

- Libby, Youth Services

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Staff Review: The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn

As the temperature drops, what better way to spend your leisure time than with a gripping true-crime story? The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn is a true-crime story for those who need more than a sensationalized re-telling of the crime itself. The Jonestown massacre looms in our country’s collective consciousness as one of the great disasters of the 20th century. The horrendous nature of the event leads us to look at the characters involved with equal parts fascination and contempt. This book brings the reader into the environment in which the massacre's instigator, Jim Jones, grew up, the people around him who believed in him and his cause, and his rise to power and gradual corruption. Guinn, a former journalist, uses his investigative skills to tell this nuanced story with gripping prose.

In the first part of the book, there are surprisingly few red flags foretelling of looming disaster. Jones had a tendency toward unusual behavior, but didn’t appear to be a complete sociopath early on. We do see a child who takes an unusual interest in religion (neither of his parents were religious) and who has the desire and ability to control people. Jones discovers he has a talent for preaching and manipulating people and he creates congregations to effect social change. 

Peoples Temple, which Jones established in his twenties, had the positive mission of helping the disenfranchised. In the eyes of his wife, Marceline, who stayed by his side until the very end, Jones’s mission was akin to Christ’s and even though she didn’t approve of his means, she witnessed the positive change he was making in the world. In the first half of the book, the Peoples Temple appears to be a force for good. According to Guinn, the Temple played a large part in integrating blacks and whites in the Jim Crow Indianapolis of the 50s. They opened nursing homes and created social outreach programs to help troubled youth. As Jones brings in the disenfranchised by helping them, he gradually unveils his primary objective: the creation of a socialist utopia where everyone gives up their personal property and takes care of each other. It appears that Jones believed in his mission and that he was fighting for equality. He wanted everyone to live as he said God intended—to resist the material temptations of our capitalist society, which glorify the individual, and to take care of each other.

As the story goes on and gets darker, Guinn remains objective and never claims to know Jones’s intentions. Whether or not his heart was in the right place early on, it becomes difficult to believe Jones is fighting for a better world as his cruel and deceitful behavior starts to add up. Physical punishment and humiliation, sexually abusing members, keeping members’ income, selling and taking the property of members, stashing away his fortune in foreign accounts, indulging himself in comforts he denies other members, threatening blackmail for those who try to leave—these are just a few of the acts we find Jones guilty of. Guinn remains objective in his exposition so that the reader can almost understand why Jones's paranoia, grasp of reality, and ego get out of control. A large percentage of his members remain committed to his socialist utopia and want to be examples to the world. They demonstrate, well before the disaster, that they are willing to die for the cause. Their unwavering devotion, mixed with Jones's belief that he is destined to make history, create a toxic cocktail.

Jones started the Peoples Temple in Indianapolis, set up another location in San Francisco, and, spurred by his paranoia of nuclear war, ultimately set up a colony in Guyana. When the media finally caught on to Jim Jones’s misdeeds, he hid in the Guyana camp, Jonestown. The final harrowing chapters in Guyana where a senator and members of the media are murdered and nearly 1,000 people commit mass suicide (whether willingly or not) are equally heartbreaking and allegorical. The Road to Jonestown is a demonstrative story, not as much about fanaticism as about power. Guinn points out that Jones was a demagogue “who ultimately betrayed his followers whether he always intended to or not.” Guinn doesn’t glorify or sensationalize any of the dirty details; instead he treats Jones and the Temple members fairly, revealing Jones as a person gradually corrupted and divorced from reality. With Jones as their infallible leader, most members followed his alternate reality. Guinn handles all these themes and asks the big questions with an eye for the telling detail, bringing both the characters and their setting to life.

~Ben, Adult Services