Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
About twenty years ago, I stumbled on a documentary called Paradise Lost: the Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. It told the story of the investigation into the murder of three eight year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas and the subsequent conviction of three teenagers, casting doubt on whether the teenagers were guilty of murder or just guilty of wearing black, listening to heavy metal music, and enjoying horror films.
Over the years, the documentary filmmakers who made the original Paradise Lost have produced two other films: Paradise Lost: Revelations and Paradise Lost: Purgatory. These documentaries and other information about the case convinced some high profile people like: Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins, Johnny Depp, and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson to lobby for the release of these teenagers.
After a bizarre plea deal, they were released on August 19, 2011 after serving over eighteen years for crimes they possibly didn’t commit.
Now, Damien Echols, who was on death row for those eighteen years, tells his story in Life After Death. Watch the documentaries and read his book and decide who you believe.
Life After Death
If I was forced into compiling a list of my favorite film directors, Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom) would be number five or six, perhaps even four given my mood. Regardless, he’s one of my go-to directors when I want to laugh, cry (well, not really) and be intellectually moved and artistically impressed. So I was pleased as punch to find out that a new, beautifully conceived book about Anderson and his singular cinematic vision was coming out this winter. The coffee table-sized book is a kitchen-sink assortment of analysis, interviews, and references to those touchstones which have inspired the director. The Wes Anderson Collection is a fan’s must-have tome. You can view a Q and A with the author here.
The Wes Anderson Collection
It took me almost a whole year to read through Andrew Solomon’s deeply moving book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. One reason is because it is so long (over 700 pages) and the other is because it was a little bit popular among Kalamazoo residents so I would have it for three weeks and then return it to fill a hold and get it back several weeks later. I don’t think this was a bad way to experience this book. It is so dense and at times emotionally draining, it was good to move slowly and take some time off.
Through interviews with parents, Solomon explores the lives of families coping with children with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities; and with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, and who are transgender. The summary in our catalog describes the book as, “elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance--all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.”
Do not be put off by the size of the book. If you just can’t get yourself to take on a project that big, the chapters stand mostly alone so you could pick and choose what you wanted to read. Also, just reading the introduction is highly satisfying, as you encounter more compelling and fascinating ideas than most whole books.
In the chapter on transgender children, Solomon mentions a documentary titled Prodigal Sons that was made by one of the subjects of that chapter. I was delighted to see that the library owned a copy and I highly recommend it.
Far From the Tree
I was born in Washington D.C. four days after JFK was killed. As a result I always felt an affinity for, and curiosity about, Kennedy.
I was especially moved when my father and I had the chance to visit the 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. We went to Dallas together on the last major trip my father took before he died. We watched TV clips of pivotal moments in Kennedy’s presidency. We looked out of the window from which the shots were fired, onto the white painted “X” on Elm Street marking the spot where Kennedy was struck dead. Dad told me about how he felt, living in D.C., expecting a new baby to the family, while memorial events for the fallen president were taking place.
After the museum, Dad and I went for dinner at a delicious Mexican restaurant nearby. As we were finally leaving downtown, we got a little turned around and drove down a few different streets before finding the exit onto the freeway. I felt chills when I realized-- just as we were clearly headed in the right direction-- that I was driving right over the fatal spot, the painted “X” on Elm Street.
As the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination approaches, you may wish to revisit that time, explore something new about Kennedy’s administration or ponder the controversies surrounding his death. We’ve got so much you can read, view and hear.
Where were you? America Remembers the JFK Assassination
August 28th will be the 50th Anniversary of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” This past weekend, tens of thousands of people marched on Washington, in commemoration of the event.
I looked for information at KPL about the 1963 march and what was happening here in Kalamazoo during that time. I found writings on the history and significance of the March on Washington, biographies of prominent march organizers such as A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin and other civil rights workers, a video recording of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Local civil-rights events in 1963 included the picketing of the Van Avery drugstore and the October 6 Kalamazoo March for Equal Opportunities. To learn more local events the year ca. 300,000 people were marching in D.C. for jobs and freedom, visit KPL’s Local History desk. We have numerous files of newspaper clippings and microfilm access to the 1963 Kalamazoo Gazette.
The march on Washington : jobs, freedom, and the forgotten history of civil rights
In 2011, Zach Wahls’ speech to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee was posted online and went viral, where it gleaned over 17 million hits on YouTube. For those who’d like to hear more from this promising young activist, you can read his book, My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family.
Wahls, an Eagle Scout, was raised -- in a home steeped in family values, discussing morals at the dinner table—by two moms. In his book, Wahls breaks down the Boy Scout motto, law, oath and slogan, giving concrete examples of how his family exemplified values in each of those codes and what he learned from the Boy Scouts about living out those values. He also gives a moving account of his mother, Terry’s, struggle with MS, and how her illness and triumphs over her condition impacted the whole family. In general, we see a family sharing love and struggles, as all families do. This family’s parents ultimately earned the legal right to marry in their home state, partly due to Zach Wahls’ inspiring speech on the Iowa legislative floor.
The library has other materials by, and/or for, children of gay or lesbian parents, and their parents. If you don’t find what you are looking for, please ask!
My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family