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.
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.
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel is a captivating new science fiction novel about a giant metal robot whose parts are strewn across different parts of the earth and the physicist determined to uncover its origins and purpose. Dr. Rose Franklin encountered the robot firsthand when she was a young girl. She was riding her bike when, suddenly, she fell through the ground and into the palm of a giant metal hand. Rose slowly learns that the hand is just one of many robot parts being discovered around the world, but it’s not clear what these robots were meant for. Making human lives easier? Destroying human lives? The story is told in journal entries, interviews and transcripts, so the reader feels the suspense of trying to piece the story together. Each interviewer and interviewee shares a new perspective to this mystery, and the results unfold at a thrilling pace.
This novel is engaging and moves quickly. Its realistic premise makes it a great read for fans of The Martian and science fiction lovers. Although the scientific and robotic concepts are realistic, the language and style of the story are easily digestible. Neuvel has an education in linguistics and a background as a software engineer, so his story is fun to both read and speculate about. It's the first book in a new series, so readers who enjoy this book can look forward to the next installment Walking Gods, coming out in April 2017.
When Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw arrives on the scene of the crime, the door is hanging open, there is an abandoned coat in the foyer and broken glass and blood splatter in the kitchen. These are the only clues to track in Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner. The victim is Ph.D. candidate Edith Hind, daughter of eminent surgeon Sir Ian Hind. Sir Ian is highly connected, but despite pressure from the Home Secretary, there are very few clues to follow, and time is running out for Edith and the Cambridgeshire Police.
Manon’s frustration grows as the first 72 hours — considered the most vital in a missing person’s case — seep away. As the press circles the scene like vultures, devouring the most salacious details of Edith’s love life, Manon’s team scrambles to gather more clues. With the clock ticking and pressure on every side, Manon must delve the deepest secrets of a very private prominent family to unearth what really happened to Edith.
Steiner uses multiple perspectives from different characters to create a wholly believable story with psychological depth. She develops the characters through their distinct eccentricities; Manon listens to a police scanner to ease herself to sleep, her colleague Davy peppers police jargon throughout his conversations and the missing Edith can recycle anything into an art project. One revelation after another brings you to a conclusion you do not see coming. This police procedural has all the elements of a riveting psychological thriller. Missing, Presumed is a beautifully written novel by an up-and-coming writer.
Traveling to a different country can be scary and exciting, but when you’re doing it with a person you just met on an online dating site, it becomes an adventure. No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering is a memoir by Clara Bensen about her traveling adventure through eight countries in three weeks. Her traveling partner Jeff is a university professor she met on OkCupid just a few weeks before their trip.
Clara describes herself as quiet and reserved, while Jeff has a personality “bigger than Texas.” After a few magical dates and undeniable chemistry, Clara agrees to accompany Jeff on his upcoming trip to Istanbul. In addition to agreeing on a spur-of-the-moment trip, they decide to fully embrace their spontaneity by purchasing plane tickets and ending the planning there — no hotel reservations, no concrete plans, no luggage. It’s certainly a risk, but it’s one that this young couple is willing to take.
This book is a refreshing love story about romance in the digital age. Clara describes her relationship with Jeff as “all very modern.” No need to define or question anything; just going with the flow and falling into the rhythm of being with one another. Of course, there are some snares in their honeymoon-like trip, but Clara’s anxiety and worry about the future slowly melt away as she learns to accept and appreciate each moment in front of her — from the warm sea air of beaches in Turkey to the olive trees and burnt grass in Greece. Readers who enjoy thoughtful travel memoirs such as Eat, Pray, Love or Under the Tuscan Sun will love this warm and inspiring travel tale.
How did Meryl Streep become the only actor to receive a record-setting 17 Academy Award nominations? Michael Schulman’s latest biography, Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep, answers this question. Using interviews and diaries from those close to her, he deftly chronicles Streep’s ascension to stardom, from childhood to her breakout role in the movie Kramer vs. Kramer.
Told in chronological order, Schulman begins with her idyllic childhood in the New Jersey suburb of Bernardsville. She spent her time taking singing lessons in New York City, hanging out with friends and acting in school plays. Schulman’s tale of how she became Homecoming Queen in 1966 is eye opening. Discovering her love for drama as an undergrad at Vassar, she went on to attend the prestigious Yale School of Drama. How she made this decision will make you laugh out loud. While at Yale, she sharpened her talent but, more importantly, made the connections which landed her in the heart of New York’s theater scene. One such connection was with the late actor John Cazale, most notably known for his role as Fredo in the Godfather movies. Schulman not only tells of their devoted relationship but also provides background on Cazale and the making of the film The Deer Hunter. His description of her after Cazale’s untimely death is truly heartbreaking. And, you will be mesmerized by her difficult working relationship with Dustin Hoffman on the film Kramer vs. Kramer.
Schulman’s compelling, detailed bio of Streep's early years, filled with backstories and humorous anecdotes, will give you a glimpse into her formative years. Not only will you learn about her relationships and personality, but also about the 1970’s entertainment industry. Fans of Streep as well as Arts and Entertainment enthusiasts will enjoy this revealing bio. Find out for yourself how Her Again proves without a doubt why Streep is a respected, award-winning actress.
Looking forward to meeting her fellow book lover and American pen-pal Amy for the first time, Swede Sara Lindqvist arrives in Amy’s hometown of Broken Wheel, Iowa — just in time to meet the mourners leaving Amy’s funeral. Sara had planned for a two-month vacation of reading and talking about her favorite books with Amy; now she has no friend, no real plans and no one to talk books with.
Broken Wheel isn’t what she expected from Amy’s letters, and the people who still live in the dying Midwestern town definitely don’t know what to expect from its first tourist. They don’t expect her to stay for the two months, and they certainly don’t expect her to open a book shop stocked with Amy’s vast collection. But in The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, that is exactly what Sara does when she decides that what the townspeople need most is books.
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a love song to books and booklovers everywhere, with no judgments passed on what is read. Sara’s plan focuses more on engendering a similar level of affection that she feels towards books in the townspeople. In addition to celebrating books, readers will fall for the quirky characters themselves, from Sara to the members of the town. The book is lighthearted and genuine without ever becoming saccharine, and Bivald slips some funny moments as the townspeople come to accept Sara and she starts to take charge of her life.
Part chick lit, part book review and all heart, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend lets us remember not only how books change and stay with us but also how they can connect us to each other, even across oceans or differences in experience. Fans of Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop may enjoy the time they spend in Broken Wheel.