In 1980, the
Chinese Government enacted a one child policy, mandating that each family could
only have one child in hopes of curbing the rapid population growth of the
country. This controversial policy was put into place to avoid facing another
disaster like the Great Chinese Famine from 1959-1961 that killed an estimated
15 to 30 million people.
there were unintended consequences. At the beginning of this year the one child
policy was lifted, but millions of families are still have to live with the unique
challenges it caused, such as the gender imbalance caused by widespread
infanticide, and millions of unauthorized second children who live
unacknowledged by the state, unable to attend school, or even get a library
In OneChild: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment, Mei Fong explores the
aftermath of this policy through well researched analysis, and by following
families to capture the repercussions through a more personal lens. This book
is a really fascinating, eye-opening read. I definitely recommend it.
Toni Morrison said it best: this book is required reading.
In college I'll never forget reading one of the greatest works of African American literature ever to be put on paper: Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. For a white person first understanding what it's like to be black in America, this was a powerful experience for me. I was finding my way into an empathetic and complex understanding of the greatest tragedies in America. I distinctly remember the end of the book (or was it the beginning?): the narrator sitting in a basement room, with many lights, and books, and jazz and whiskey, plotting his reemergence into the great white world.
Now, many books and years later, Between the World and Me reawakens me. This book had the same effect on me as Invisible Man and There Eyes Were Watching God and The New Jim Crow, probably greater. The weight of the words and sentences has a physical effect on the body, a sad truth that slowly settles and creeps in. It's personal. He makes it personal. Every single word and sentence of this little book was chosen carefully for maximum effect and truth.
Another fascinating theme of this book is its atheistic, materialistic, physical outlook on the issue of racism in America. He says it as plain and real and physical as possible, and he says it many times: racism is the destruction of the black body.
Colson Whitehead’s newest novel, The Underground Railroad, was slated to be published next month. But yesterday, in a surprise announcement, Oprah Winfrey named the novel her latest book club selection and the book is actually available for purchase now.
KPL has the book on-order and you can place a hold using the online catalog. While you wait for your copy to become available, check out some of the following titles; some are new, some older, and some are previous Oprah picks:
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Underground Airlines by Ben Winters
The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Grace by Natashia Deon
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile
The Coming by Daniel Black
Beloved by Toni Morrison
After hearing Barry Yourgrau interviewed on NPR Weekend Edition, I was drawn to read Mess: One Man's Struggle to clean up his House and his Act.
Yourgrau’s girlfriend delivered an ultimatum. Basically it was: clean this place (and your life) up, or we are over! Yourgrau loves his girlfriend, and he wanted the relationship, so he had to figure out how to clean up his mess. He began to research, interviewing many people and reading quite a lot, seeking to understand why people clutter and hoard and how they overcome that issue, if/when they do.
I found most of the book fascinating, though I bristled with discomfort reading the author’s description of a Clutterers Anonymous meeting (p. 43.) It seemed he attended as a voyeur, an ‘objective’ researcher, instead of honestly owning his own issues. I found it unethical that he shared the details of that meeting in his book. Many anonymous 12-Step groups say: “What you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here.” Yourgrau didn’t give real names to any of the speakers, but he shared enough details that if one of those people should read his book, I’d think they would recognize themselves. Not cool, when you’re attending an anonymous meeting! His writing displayed a condescending attitude toward the other people at the meeting. I sensed he was hiding from his feelings about himself and his own clutter by judging the other people around the table.
That said, that experience appears fairly early in the book. Yourgrau’s attitude toward other clutterers seemed to soften as his book progressed, as he learned more about why people clutter and hoard, and as he understood and accepted more about his own issues with said behavior. Ultimately, it was very interesting how the author shared of his personal story/experience, wove it into what he learned about cluttering and hoarding, then would weave what he learned back into his own understanding of himself. All told, I liked the book and I liked Yourgrau.
It’s a shame he didn’t include a bibliography, because the book is packed with references.
children’s story was inspired by a real event. In Missouri in 1847 a law was
passed that prohibited the education of Blacks, slaves or free. This law was
passed by the General Assembly of the State of Missouri and it stated that: “No
person shall keep a school for the instructions of negroes or mulattoes,
reading or writing in this state.”
A man named
John Berry Meachum lived from 1789-1854. He had been born a slave and worked to
earn enough money to buy his freedom. In 1826 he became a minister of the first
African American Baptist Church in Missouri. Although, educating blacks was
against the law it was very important to Meachem. Being a very resourceful and
creative person he worked to find ways to defy the unjust law that stated black
people could not be educated within the state. He built a steamboat and used it
in the middle of the Mississippi River as a school for Blacks.
the idea for this great story, Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson, came
We often think of the women astronauts as breaking gender barriers, but a whole generation of women came before them in the early days of the space program.
Rise of the Rocket Girls follows an elite group of women in the 1940’s and 50’s who broke gender and scientific barriers in the early days of rocket design and helped lay the groundwork for our space program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Interestingly, they were referred to as computers because they performed the math computations that determined speed, trajectory, combustion, and other factors for rocket and propellant development. These women computed thus they were labeled computers.
This book is very readable. Interspersed with their space work, are stories of their challenges of balancing home and family with a career, their struggles in a male-dominated workplace, and their pride in their role in launching American into space.
The environmental history of Michigan in the twentieth century (and beyond) has been one characterized by intermittent disasters with wide-ranging implications for the health and well-being of its citizens. One need only examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s maps of Superfund sites (specially-designated toxic waste remediation locations) in Michigan to better understand the current scope of the problems.
We have seen recent examples play out over the last year including the Flint water crisis and the discovery of water contamination stemming from a decommissioned Air Force Base in Oscoda. Citizens of Kalamazoo will be well-aware of the Allied Paper Mill / Portage Creek / Kalamazoo River Superfund PCB remediation process that has dominated the environmental consciousness of Kalamazoo and Allegan counties since the early 1990s - not to mention the subsequent Enbridge oil spill.
As alarming as these scenarios have been, the effects and general contamination produced by each could be described as relatively localized, at least in comparison to a 1973 disaster which resulted in the poisoning of the general population (approximately 9 million individuals) of Michigan through compromised dairy products. This is the subject of The Poisoning of Michigan by Joyce Egginton.
Egginton begins by summarizing the broad strokes of the accident, which began at the Michigan Chemical Corporation where a variety of industrial chemicals were produced. Among these were Nutrimaster, an additive for livestock feed which was shown to increase milk production in dairy cows and have other beneficial effects, and Firemaster, a polybrominated biphenyl (a type of chemical very similar to PCBs) that was being used at the time as a top-notch industrial fire-retardant. The chemicals were nearly indistinguishable to the naked eye, and a paper shortage had led to some extremely questionable techniques being implemented to label the 50-pound brown paper bags in which both Nutrimaster and Firemaster were shipped.
The outcome of this unconscionable confluence of circumstances was that in the Spring of 1973 a truck driver delivered several thousand pounds of Firemaster to the largest agricultural feed plant in Michigan where it was unknowingly combined with livestock feed, dispersed to more than 5,000 farms all over the state and fed to a variety of farm animals for nearly a year before being positively identified.
Egginton goes on to discuss in great detail the efforts of a handful of individuals, including a dairy farmer with a chemistry degree, who worked to pinpoint the cause of what followed: cows lost weight precipitously, milk production plummeted, chickens were born with tumors, animals in general refused to eat and perished. Similar outcomes awaited humans who consumed the products produced by those animals to the degree that a measurable decline in the athletic prowess of Michigan sports teams was noted during the years of peak contamination. All of this took place within an atmosphere which Egginton describes as one characterized by bureaucratic denial, industrial indifference, and the isolation of the afflicted.
Even when viewed alongside such well-known environmental disasters as Love Canal, which would be brought to light five years later, the degree of contamination stemming from the accident remains unparalleled in the United States. Occasionally the event is revisited by the media, and the ongoing effects are measured and discussed, but proportional to its impact, it seems to have become a little-known chapter in the environmental and agricultural history of Michigan.
Dead presidents. That would be all of them except for five. This rather unorthodox and macabre yet sometimes humorous book published in 2016 discusses the circumstances of the presidents' deaths, burials, and legacies. Other than the first chapter, which is about George Washington, author Carlson does not take a chronological approach, but a topical one. Chapter 3 ("The First Patient") is about Garfield, Hoover, and Taylor, and the doctors who kept them alive (and occasionally made them worse). The fifth chapter ("Death Trips") is about the posthumous (yes, that's right) travels of Polk, Monroe, Tyler, and Lincoln. In chapter 8 we read about "Unintended Legacies," the story of how the reputations of Taft, Jackson, and Jefferson have changed over time. For a different way to consider the presidents of the United States, please try this.
At some point in a semi-recent reading of Dan Jones’ The Wars of the Roses, it occurred to me that almost everything I knew about King John of England had been gathered from films, from the timeless The Lion in Winter to the marginally enjoyable Ridley Scott adaptation of Robin Hood. Naturally, I was pleased when I saw Marc Morris’ recent biography of King John appear on our shelves. Morris, an historian who studied and taught history at the Universities of London and Oxford, is the author of the very well-received A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain and Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England.
The broad strokes of John’s life are fairly well-known to many: he took part in a wide variety of power struggles within his immediate family, earning himself a reputation as an attempted usurper, orchestrated the murder of his nephew and rival, quarreled with the Pope, was excommunicated from the Church, lost all his inherited lands in continental Europe, heavily taxed his barons resulting in his forced signing of the Magna Carta, and upon his death, left England in a state of upheaval. Certainly, the details of such a life warrant closer examination and King John’s life has been the subject of numerous efforts by historians, many of whom see in him an ambitious and able-bodied administrator whose reputation has been tarnished by both his contemporary chroniclers and those who have come since.
Morris’s assessment of the life and legacy of King John is less glowing, however. He describes him as deficient in matters of both military and political, and states, “Besides his reputation for treachery, John lacked boldness.” Additionally, he makes it plain that John seemed to have a tendency towards cruelty and argues that authors of primary sources concerning his life who claimed as much certainly had plenty of source material from which to draw their criticisms.
In addition to what I would consider a fair treatment of King John, I was also pleased to find thought-provoking depictions of his family, friends, and rivals. Even among such colorful characters as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, and Richard the Lionheart, the one who stood out the most in my mind was Philip II, called Philip Augustus, of France. The delicate relationship between the two monarchs, frequently cooperative, but ultimately antagonistic, constituted a turning point in European geopolitics that I’m sure I had never properly appreciated before and is handled with great precision here.
Dmitri Shostakovich was a quiet man, nervous and introverted. He disliked the attention that his music granted him. Considering he lived through the Great Terror of Stalin's regime, it makes perfect sense he would want to be as inconspicuous as a composer could be. As Operation Barbarossa brings the new threat of Hitler's army bearing down on them, the people of Leningrad are faced with the struggle, not merely to survive, but to maintain their humanity. During a siege that lasted almost 900 days, poetry and music manage to give the people hope, and it's Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony that shines brightest in the city darkened by war. I highly recommend listening to his symphonies as you read this book. It adds yet another powerful dimension to an already compelling true story.