Susan Faludi, a feminist writer probably most famous for writing Backlash: the Undeclared War Against American Women, has a new book exploring her family’s history titled In the Darkroom. It begins when she is contacted by her father from whom she has been long estranged and he informs her that he is now Stephanie, having gone through sex reassignment surgery. As they renew their relationship, Faludi takes you on a fascinating journey into her father’s identity and the idea of identity itself.
She explores her father’s history as a photographer, adept at manufacturing and manipulating images and weaves this into the many changes her father has gone through in life. Then she layers on top of that the history of Hungary, her father’s homeland and current place of residence, which she reveals to be a most willing accomplice in the extermination of Jews during World War II. This was the back drop for her Jewish father’s early years in Hungary before emigrating to the United States.
It seems like a mystery novel with Faludi as the detective, turning up clues and illuminating her father’s story.
Years ago when I worked in archives, I would spend hours and
hours looking through photos taken during the Harlem Renaissance era. Most of those photos were taken by James
VanDerZee, a brilliant African American photographer who had the ability to capture the true essence
of his subjects.
VanDerZee was born in Lennox, Massachusetts in 1886. As a young boy, he fell in love with "a huge contraption called a camera" and immediately taught himself how to take photos and develop the film in his own closet darkroom. At 18, he moved to New York City when the Harlem Renaissance was beginning. After working several jobs, VanDerZee opened his own photography studio and began his journey photographing everyone and everything. His photos were so well-produced, his services were in high demand for the next 60 plus years.
Andrea J. Loney introduces young readers to this amazing man in this well-written and illustrated biography picture book. I recommend it for family reading.
Some time ago I wrote in this space about the book Prisoners
of Geography: Ten Maps that Explain Everything about the World. Now comes
author Tim Marshall with another book. This one is called A Flag Worth Dying
For: The Power and Politics of National Symbols. In nine chapters Marshall
gives histories of many of the world’s flags as well as anecdotes that make
these histories interesting. I especially appreciated the color flag
illustrations, particularly those of the many new countries that have
evolved in the last quarter century. More than detailed accounts, these
chapters analyze the symbolism and emotional impact the sight of a flag has on
those who view it. According to Geographical magazine, ‘This might be
the comprehensive flag volume we’ve all been waiting for – a slick yet detailed
and well-researched journey through some of the world’s most infamous and
interesting flags. Marshall guides us through this myriad of stories
I think it’s pretty safe to say
that I won’t be making the trip to Yellowstone National Park anytime
soon. But, I can celebrate the 100th anniversary of the
National Park Service (albeit a few months late) with the help of this book.
Subtitled A Journey through America’s Wild Heart, one finds herein a
short history of the park; however, author David Quammen’s purpose in writing
this book is to describe the park as it exists today. One would expect to find
great photography in a publication from the National Geographic Society, and
this work is no exception. The unconventional size (7” tall x 10” wide) adds to
the uniqueness of this volume. For a good survey of life in today’s
Yellowstone, take a look at this.
On my vacation trip to Utah this year, I brought along All the Wild that Remains by David Gessner. Gessner is a creative writing professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and is well known for his nature writing. Although he is a New Englander, he fell in love with the West and two revered and influential writers: Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey, during some time he spent there in his 20s.
In All the Wild that Remains, Gessner travels around the West to important places in Stegner’s and Abbey’s lives; sometimes interviewing old friends of theirs, and commenting on these writers’ legacies and what they taught us about living in the West.
Stegner, my favorite author, spent some of his formative years in Salt Lake City and chose to have his papers archived at the University of Utah rather than Stanford where he founded and led an outstanding writing program that boasts a long line of famous attendees such as: Larry McMurtry, Wendell Berry, Ken Kesey, Robert Stone, and our other featured author, Edward Abbey. Stegner fought to preserve the wild places of the West in many ways and is best remembered in environmental circles for what is called the Wilderness Letter, which was influential in creating the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Abbey lived a wilder life and his novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, was the inspiration for the creation of the environmental organization Earth First!. Many agree that his masterpiece though is the autobiographical Desert Solitaire that Abbey wrote about his time as a park ranger in Arches National Park. Unable to attend Abbey’s funeral celebration in southern Utah, Stegner sent these words for Wendell Berry to read, "He had the zeal of a true believer and a stinger like a scorpion . . . He was a red-hot moment in the life of the country, and I suspect that the half-life of his intransigence will be like that of uranium."
If you haven’t heard of either of these authors, it wouldn’t be that surprising. They were characterized as Western authors and therefore, somewhat ignored by the East Coast literati, much to Stegner’s chagrin. Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Angle of Repose wasn’t even reviewed in the New York Times Book Review.
But now you know about them, so add them to your reading lists.
I first fell in love with Chris Cleave’s writing in Little Bee, and when I read this novel set during World War II, I fell in love all over again. But as with a person, it can be hard to pinpoint what about a book makes you fall in love, particularly when the book depicts so many horrors of war.
I recently reread Everyone Brave is Forgiven to try to figure it out, and I think what most draws me to Cleave’s writing is that his characters are so full of heart and spirit that even bleak events (or the telling of them) seem to have redeeming value.
Cleave’s descriptions and dialog are vibrant and often humorous, and his writing is masterfully paced, playing with the way time can elapse very slowly and then without warning stand still on a sudden dramatic event. It’s quite a balancing act and evokes the precarious experience of going through daily life under the constant threat of bombing.
This is a story of suffering and tragedy, but paradoxically, the message I take away from it is of survival, redemption, bravery, and love.
Virginia schools are integrating and Kizzy Anne Stamps is about to start a new school. Although, Kizzy is strong willed and stubborn she’s nervous about attending school with white kids. Her old-school teacher suggested she become acquainted with her new teacher so Kizzy started writing her letters. She told Mrs. Anderson all about herself, her dreams and her struggles.
This is a great story about a little girl and her border collie dog, Shag. She had a lot of challenges but she met them with strength, kindness and humor.
In the 1920s, the Osage were very wealthy, for the times, from the discovery of oil. As other tribal lands were being parceled out and the government was forcing the assimilation of the Native American culture, the Osage had negotiated the mineral rights for their corner of Oklahoma….and then oil was discovered!
Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is the story of the systematic murder for money – execution-style shootings, poisoning, exploding houses – sometimes by family members, sometimes by “guardians” who the federal government had appointed with the belief the Osage were not capable of handling their own affairs.
J. Edgar Hoover decided this would be the perfect showcase for his new agency, the FBI. The investigation revealed a plan to take away the Osage fortune by killing over two dozen of the tribal members.
This is a compelling, horrifying story that has been lost in main stream history. I imagine it has not been lost in Osage or Oklahoma history.
This is my last book blog as KPL director. As I become a frequent library patron, I’ll continue to follow what the staff is reading and add many of their suggestions to my reading list. I expect to have more time to read!
The Secret Subway tells the story of Alfred Ely Beach and his Beach Pneumatic Transit, the earliest predecessor to New York City's subway system, unveiled in 1870. What drew me to this book initially was Red Nose Studio's (Chris Sickels) art: photographs of elaborate dioramas he made from clay and cardboard. But beyond the remarkable art is a story of a person who had an idea and worked for years to try to make it a reality.
Over the years, I have enjoyed reading Matt Taibbi’s current events articles in Rolling Stone, although I did feel at times that his over the top, (but funny) vitriolic name calling cut into his credibility. He is undeniably intelligent and is excellent at explaining complex issues in easy to understand and entertaining prose.
For the first time, I delved into one of his books, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. Here Taibbi investigates the banking/housing financial crisis of 2008, where clearly fraudulent business practices led to the loss of 40% of the world’s wealth, but almost no one went to jail, alongside the proactive policing of the poor that is filling our jails even though crime is declining.
One thing he uncovers is that government agencies are reluctant to go after wealthy corporations because it would cost so much to bring those cases to trial and would be harder to win, because of the top notch lawyers these corporations can employ. On the other hand, the poor are vulnerable and easy to convict; low hanging fruit.
I ask myself if this is anything new. Hasn’t this divide always existed? Taibbi argues that the divide is growing and threatens our country’s foundational values.