After having the opportunity to see Shaka Senghor at Bookbug earlier this spring, I immediately checked out a copy of Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison and quickly became engrossed in this young author’s fascinating and inspiring story. In alternating chapters that move between the period leading up to his incarceration at age 19, and the period encompassing his 19-year imprisonment, Senghor presents a comprehensive account of how, despite all the cards presumably stacked against him as an African American boy growing up in Detroit, he was able to rise above his mistakes. He now travels the country as a lecturer on criminal justice reform, and is a living example of the benefits of journalling, reading, and self-exploration that resulted in his ultimate release, after a sentence that included a total of seven years in solitary confinement. And although those particular details are not for the faint of heart, Senghor’s story is one of hope, forgiveness, and redemption.
You think you like pizza? Colin Hagendorf likes pizza. Middle-aged, crusty punk Colin likes pizza so much, in fact, that in August 2009, he set out to eat a slice of cheese pizza from every single pizzeria in Manhattan, and in the process started the blog Slice Harvester. This book is a record of his pizza adventures over the course of two years and nearly 400 pizza slices, good and bad (frequently bad). Along the way, he meets the third-generation Italian owner of one of NYC's best pizza joints, eats pizza with celebrities, drinks, fights, and reevaluates his existence. More than just a pizza travelogue or simple list of reviews, Slice Harvester is warts-and-all memoir of some very bad behavior and questionable decision-making. If you like your pizza topped with attitude, sarcasm, and a dash of self-loathing, take this one home today!
I was trying to think of a book that I could recommend for LGBTQ Pride Month and my mind keeps going back to a deeply moving book I read a few years ago by Andrew Solomon called Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Most of the book is not about LGBTQ issues, but Solomon’s research and empathetic voice helps bring awareness and appreciation for the view point of many different kinds of people, which is a major goal of Pride Month.
Through interviews with parents, Solomon explores the lives of families raising 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 this 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.
This 2015 book, subtitled Ten Maps That Explain Everything about the World, is praised by Newsweek as a work that 'shows how geography shapes not just history but destiny.' The ten maps and the discussion of each conveniently take up ten chapters: Russia, China, United States, Western Europe, Africa, The Middle East, India and Pakistan, Korea and Japan, Latin America, and The Arctic. The discipline of geopolitics gets a very good airing here, with answers by British author Tim Marshall to such questions as: 1) Why will America never be invaded?, 2) What does it mean that Russia must have a navy, but also has frozen ports six months out of the year?, 3) How does this affect Putin's treatment of the Ukraine?, 4) How is China's future constrained by geography?, 5) Why is Tibet destined to lose its autonomy?, and 6) Why will Europe never be united? The physical aspects of the world's nations are a major factor in determining the conduct of international relations even in this modern age. Historical yet current, this book is a rich source for understanding the world scene in the 21st century and the background to its development.
My enduring interest in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and my Finnish ancestry are two aspects of my life I never had reason to believe would ever cross in any significant fashion. Browsing the shelves, I recently discovered The Story of Kullervo (ed. Verlyn Flieger), an unfinished prose version of what is known as the Kullervo cycle, which originally appeared in the Finnish epic poem The Kalevala.
Tolkien set to work on the The Story of Kullervo as an undergraduate studying at Exeter College, Oxford in 1914. The original story is a tragic tale of an unfortunate orphan boy, raised by his father's killer, and centered around themes of magic, betrayal, and vengeance. Tolkien, having first read an English-translated copy of The Kalevala in 1907 while a student at King Edward’s School, found the Kullervo cycle particularly captivating. Claiming the translated version to be unsatisfactory, he set to learning Finnish in order to engage the original source material, an effort which he declared left him “repulsed with heavy losses.”
Nonetheless, he remained thoroughly interested in crafting his own version of the tale, and in The Story of Kullervo, the earliest versions of many of the themes, naming conventions, and story elements of his later works can be seen. Close students of Tolkien’s books, and those published after his death by his son, Christopher Tolkien, will find plenty to enjoy here.
Being an unfinished work, it is a quick read, but editor Verlyn Flieger has supported the story deftly with insightful analyses of what is known of Tolkien’s early efforts, the source materials he used, and additional influences on his literary style. The bibliography is substantial, drawing upon all the sources one would suspect, along with scholarly journals, monographs, and at least one PhD dissertation. Indeed, Flieger’s bibliography amounts to a well-curated ‘further reading’ list and chances are if you are investigating this book, ‘further reading’ is exactly the sort of thing that interests you.
In this captivating and honest memoir, Arin Andrews tells his story of being born in the wrong body. Growing up trapped in the body of a girl, knowing it didn't feel right, Arin struggles with his Christian school, living in the bible belt, and trying to bridge the rift between he and his mom, as he transitions from Emerald to Arin. This book is wonderfully written. Arin's voice is familiar, though I've never met him, and he tells his truth to the open reader.
To say that Ashley Bryan has been around for many years is
an understatement. After all, he is only 92. His work has been recognized by
many and he has been the recipient of many awards. The book Ashley Bryan’spuppets: making something from everything is not only full of amazing, clever
and unique puppets but also full of great and thoughtful prose.
Ashley Bryan grew up in NYC during the depression. He and
his sister started salvaging for things they could reuse at a young age. He
made his first puppet at age eleven. His puppets are made from tangled fishing
nets, weathered bones, sea glass, and driftwood….whatever else he can find. He sees
possibilities in all things. His characters and poems include Anansi: the
trickster and storyteller, Kwesi: conquering strength (who looks like an
elephant) and Animata: good character (made of shells and an upside down champagne
glass as a crown).
Jojo: his storyteller
In every finger of my glove I tap
tall tales of peace and love
The fingers of my well-gloved
hands store stories told in foreign lands.
I wish I could share every amazing and unique picture. But
that would get me into trouble so I will suggest that you read this or one of
his other fantastic books and you’ll see what I mean.
As I get older, I retain less and less of what I read. Sometimes I find it hard to even recall storylines or important parts of books from things I’m currently reading when people ask me. However, Rebecca Solnit, a writer I discovered about three years ago, has related stories and created images that have stuck in my mind. Not all she has to say resonates with me, but there has always been something that catches my imagination and carves its message into my not so malleable memory.
In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, her meditation on different ways of being lost or losing ourselves, I was moved by her description of 16th century Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca’s transformation as he gets lost in Florida and over a decade later arrives in New Mexico and finally meets up with other Spaniards, only to find he has very little in common with them anymore or with who he was ten years before.
Pick up a Rebecca Solnit book and get lost in it. Somewhere in there you will find a treasure.
bell hooks' Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood is an odd book. It’s nonfiction but it reads like
a novel. It focuses on hooks’ childhood, but each brief chapter can be
savored as an individual short story. hooks grew up in a home with several
sisters and one brother, but feeling like an outsider rather than a member of the
family. She was curious about taboo topics like death, race, marriage, sexuality,
and gender roles, but she could not discuss these subjects openly with anyone.
Only one of her grandmothers and her grandfather understood
her. Her parents punished her for talking back, warned her that too much
reading would drive her crazy, concerned themselves with her lack of interest
in boys, then worried about her interest in the wrong boys, and fretted that
she would become “funny” (their word for homosexual). Her sisters disliked and
excluded her, and her friendship with her brother dissolved as he matured.
Despite these shaky relationships, she found mentorship in a pastor, a teacher, and others
who encouraged her to embrace her individuality. Her love of reading also
inspired her, and she became a poet, and eventually the famous academic and
author the world knows her as today.
This was the first time I read hooks for leisure instead of
as part of an academic assignment, and I sped through Bone Black. This book is a nice entry point to get to know hooks’ character
and her writing. Her most notorious work is Killing
Rage but I am happy to have read Bone
Black first to see how her experiences during childhood contributed to her perspective
as an adult.
Sharron Kahn Luttrell had self-diagnosed CDD (Canine Deficit Disorder) when she chose to volunteer as a weekend puppy raiser for NEADS in their Prison Pup Partnership program. During the week, the puppy, Daisy, was raised and trained by Keith, an inmate dog handler at a nearby prison. On weekends Daisy stayed with Luttrell’s family. Here Sharron gradually introduced Daisy to many experiences she could not get inside the prison as part of Daisy’s training to become a service dog.
Though Luttrell was the puppy’s primary trainer on the weekends, the whole family fell in love with her. Sharon found that her parenting skills and insights grew as she focused on training Daisy. The dog helped her bridge gaps between her and her oldest child, Aviva. Her son, the most eager family member to meet Daisy, accompanied his mom to several of the pup’s training events.
The author illustrated the value of this program to the prisoners who participate. Training the puppies helps them develop a positive relationship with another living being. They have to provide constant care, patience and consistency throughout the week. The experience builds self-esteem for the inmate dog handlers, as they watch the puppies learn and succeed, knowing their efforts will make a difference for someone else, if the puppy becomes a service dog. Luttrell sometimes fantasized about how it would be, if Daisy were to fail the rigorous testing to become a service dog, for as the weekend trainer, her family could have ‘first dibs’ on adopting Daisy. As she grew to know Keith better, however, she became properly motivated to improve Daisy’s weekend training and ensure her success as a service dog. Her motivation came not just because it was the right thing to do, but also because she cared about Keith and wanted his success, too.