Music and history entwine in Bernice McFadden’s newest novel, The Book of Harlan, a story of one African American family spanning generations. McFadden found her inspiration for the title character of Harlan from her paternal grandfather, about whom the author says:
I never personally knew the man and neither did my father. All I had to recreate his life were a birth certificate, census schedules, a few newspaper articles and my imagination.
Emma is the cherished and respectable daughter of a Baptist minister in Macon, Georgia, until carpenter Sam Elliot sweeps her off her feet and, in the oldest story ever, Emma is pregnant. Newly married, Sam and Emma join the Great Migration of African Americans escaping the south and Jim Crow to find a better life, but leave baby Harlan behind with Emma’s parents. Landing in New York City in 1922, America’s prosperity trickles down to the Elliotts, who can finally bring their young son north with them. Harlan develops into a gifted guitarist who thrives in the Harlem Renaissance music scene and his job in a jazz band finds him touring in Paris on the eve of World War II. Hitler’s visions of extermination aren’t limited to Jews, and Harlan and his bandmate Lizard are caught up in an unimaginable nightmare.
McFadden does not sugarcoat the lives of the Elliott family, and by extension, the broader African American experience. Poverty, single motherhood, addiction, injustice and race-based prejudice cycle around again and again, making the upward mobility to which the Elliotts aspire a two-steps-forward, one-step-back journey. From the turn-of-the-century segregated south to the Newark riots of 1967, The Book of Harlan offers a sweeping view of 20th century African American life in which the constant is the unbreakable bonds of family and friends. Readers who enjoy Bernice McFadden’s perspective should also try The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.
While biological research is continually making new discoveries into how much we know about animals, there is one aspect in which scientists scrupulously avoid speculation: animals’ minds. In Being a Beast, Charles Foster attempts to rectify this disparity by immersing himself in the “neuro-alchemy” of wild creatures. Not only does he study the latest veterinary neurological research, he tries to live like them too. In a tradition of ersatz, immersive experimentation also seen in the works of Bill Bryson and A.J. Jacobs, he models his behavior to live as a badger, an otter, a fox, a red deer and a swift.
Foster’s experiences are variously uncomfortable, degrading, bizarre and sublime. While his scientific method would not hold up under much scrutiny, the objective of his writing is more ontological. Foster attempts to position himself counterpoint to humanity’s historical position as a “conqueror” of nature. He uses nature to escape — sloughing off modernity in an attempt to define and describe wildness and autonomy. His research is doomed to failure, and he begins the book by acknowledging that the challenges he sets for himself are impossible, but there is insight to be found in his quixotic experiment. Foster’s doctorate in medical law and ethics, plus his qualifications as a veterinarian, help to back his credibility even when his experiences and arguments verge on the esoteric.
Does sexism still exist? Sure, men and women are different. We always will be, biologically speaking. At first glance, women can surely do all of the things that men do in society. We can work, we can vote, we don’t “have to” be mothers and housewives. What more could we want? Where is the sexism? It’s there, and though it may have improved since the days of our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, we still need feminism. Widely acclaimed feminist writer Jessica Valenti reintroduces sexism in a different light and gives feminism a fresh approach in her newest book, Sex Object.
Sex Object is a memoir written in an organic, rather than chronological, structure. Valenti recounts the moments where sexism has affected her at all different ages and areas of her life, from the time she was in high school and her teacher asked her out, to her 20s when countless men would expose themselves to her on the subway, to the emails and responses she has gotten on her website, Feministing.com.
Valenti’s writing is realistic, raw and emotionally empowering. All women have all been where she has been, sexualized and objectified by men, but we don’t often think to call it “wrong” so much as “annoying.” Valenti’s message is not just that sexism is bad or that we should use feminism to fight it. It’s that sexism is so prevalent, so normalized every day, that we need feminism in order to recognize it. Valenti’s book is a great read for a new generation of feminists who understand that our responsibility is not to be victims, but to be voices. We do not necessarily need to fight, but we need to be aware.
The year is 2089 and humanity’s vices have only grown more severe with time; the only escape from the bleak reality of a world wrecked by pollution is to sugarcoat the dreary with flashy new virtual distractions. The neon-splashed cyberpunk future of Rick Remender and Sean Murphy’s Tokyo Ghost: Vol. 1 is equal parts entertaining and unsettling.
Constable Led Dent is a ruthless servant of the criminal overlords running Los Angeles, numbed to the horrendous acts of violence he commits by his seemingly unbreakable addiction to constant artificial audiovisual stimulation. Led’s only remaining link to the real world is his partner and lover, Debbie, whose unwavering dedication to finding a way to get Led clean lands them with a dangerous job in Tokyo, the last bastion of technology-free living in a world obsessed with staying connected.
Artist Sean Murphy and colorist Matt Hollingsworth are a flawless art team. Murphy’s dynamic lines and Hollingsworth’s masterful use of texture and color make for page after page of truly jaw-dropping artwork. Frenetic action sequences are rendered in hyper-detailed gory glory, the futuristic media projections are colorful and full of playful nods to current pop culture trends, and the tranquil landscapes of Tokyo stand in stark contrast to the gaudy streets of Los Angeles.
Remender often uses his stories to explore topical ideas pushed to their extremes, and Tokyo Ghost is no exception; while the exaggerated technology and over-the-top characters exist firmly in the realm of science fiction, you’re sure to latch onto at least one idea in this book that will make you examine the way that you interact with the world.
If you’re as blown away by the art in this book as I was, try The Wake, an Eisner Award-winning series that pairs the same art team with writer Scott Snyder and somehow manages to make fish people scary. Seriously.
Whether you’ve just been down the ocean or you’re anticipating your next trip, here are three seaside bedtime stories to share with your kids — especially if they’re fans of Ponyo.
The protagonist of The Storm can’t wait to go to the beach tomorrow with his parents! But one of Japan’s infamous monsoons threatens to douse their plans. Can his family weather the storm through the night or will their plans be rained out? Akiko Miyakoshi’s masterful charcoal illustrations depict this story of anticipation and overcoming fear with the same finesse as fellow illustrators Chris Van Allsburg and Daniel Miyares.
Maya by Mahak Jain is having trouble sleeping as well. Troubled by the dark when the power goes out, her mother comforts her with the story of the first banyan tree. Through this story and her dreamy imaginings, Maya learns how to transform her fears and overcome the sadness plaguing her from a recent loss. Elly MacKay’s ethereal cut-paper diorama illustrations, reminiscent of Lotte Reiniger’s Adventures of Prince Achmed, set the perfect tone in their depiction of Maya’s dream world.
Finally, be lulled to sleep by Anne Hunter’s onomatopoetic depiction of animals’ lullabies in Cricket Song. As the sun sets across the ocean, two worlds comingle as the diurnal creatures settle into their beds and nocturnal creatures start to wake. This understated story captures a sense of the earth’s orbit, starting in a forest in the Pacific Northwest and ending on an island in the South Seas. The interchange of the animals across the world makes for a tranquil procession as the two children in the book (and your own) drift off into slumberland.
The first thing I do after watching a really inspiring TED Talk? Search BCPL’s catalog to see if the speaker has written a book. Fortunately, TED presenters are a prolific literary bunch.
TED, whose slogan is “Ideas Worth Spreading,” was founded in 1984 and became an annual conference series in 1990. First emphasizing technology, entertainment and design, TED now includes talks on a broad range of subjects, including the academic, scientific and cultural. Talks are now limited to 18 minutes and over 2,400 have been posted online since 2006.
Recently published books by popular presenters include Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, which explores the question of why some people succeed while others fail, and Adam Grant’s Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, about successful men and women who have rejected conformity and flourished in diverse industries.
If you’ve ever dreamed about presenting your own TED Talk — or would just like some tips for improving your public speaking — TED President Chris Anderson reveals behind-the-scenes details in his new book TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. Also be sure to check out Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds by public speaking coach Carmine Gallo who promises more dynamic presentations — and more confident presenters.
TED’s 20 most popular talks of all time can be found online and include such authors as Ken Robinson, Amy Cuddy and Simon Sinek.