Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Books focusing on one year are not uncommon, but there seems to be a rash of them lately, almost like a new emphasis in publishing.
Earlier this year, I read One Summer: America, 1927 – Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone…. what a summer, what an interesting time in our history.
I recently read and blogged about Ready for a Brand New Beat with a focus on the summer of 1964.
Now I’m reading The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America.
As I browsed our new nonfiction shelves yesterday I noticed Chicago’s Greatest Year, 1893; Constellation of Genius: 1922; and Japan 1941.
Just an observation for what it is worth on a cold, snowy day…
One Summer: America, 1927
If you grew up to the music of the ’60s or grew up in Detroit or both, you are likely to relate to Ready for a Brand New Beat: How ‘Dancing in the Street’ Became the Anthem for a Changing America.
The question asked is… can a song change a nation? In 1964 “Dancing in the Street” was recorded at Motown’s Hitsville USA by Martha and the Vandellas. Martha Reeves arranged her own vocals and the song was released with the expectation it would be an upbeat dance song.
Ultimately it became a sort of anthem for the summer of 1964: Mississippi Freedom Summer, Vietnam War, free speech movement, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The song took on a new meaning for many and was eventually recorded by more than 30 artists or groups.
A good dance song or an activist anthem for the changing times…. either way, this is an interesting look at the mid-1960s.
Ready for a Brand New Beat: How ‘Dancing in the Street’ Became the Anthem for a Changing America
At a library conference this summer, I heard Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors, rave about a soon-to-be released book, The Goldfinch, by her good friend, Donna Tartt. I added it to my reading list.
I just finished this lengthy novel. At almost 800 pages it does take a substantial investment of time and I agree with some reviewers that some sections dragged, but overall I liked it.
The story begins with an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that kills narrator Theo Decker’s mother and leads to his unlikely possession of the Dutch masterpiece “The Goldfinch.” His life and fate revolves around the painting as the novel covers the next 14 years.
At times the story seemed just too coincidental but I was totally caught up in it and had to read to the end.
If you take on this book, I’d be interested in what you thought of it. I’d give it four out of five stars.
James McBride’s The Color of Water was our 2005 Reading Together title. If you attended his talk or his concert the following evening, you too remember how engaging he was both evenings, how much we enjoyed having him here. We bonded with him.
His new book, The Good Lord Bird, was just released last month to strong reviews; it is already included on many best-of lists and is likely to be one of my 2013 favorites.
It is the story of abolitionist John Brown leading up to the raid in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, before the Civil War. Brown takes “Little Onion,” a slave in Kansas mistaken for a girl due to the smock he was wearing when his master was shot. Little Onion travels with Brown to meet Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman to muster support for his mission to liberate African Americans and end slavery. It all leads to the bloody and pathetic raid on Harpers Ferry.
The book is much better than this brief review conveys. McBride has been compared to Mark Twain in tone; this book affirms his mastery of historical fiction.
The Good Lord Bird
The story of the building of the atomic bomb is often told from the scientific and decision making perspective. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, is the story from the perspective of young woman, many from the neighboring area in Tennessee, who went to work at Oak Ridge. They would not know until Hiroshima what they were working on, what part they were playing in the war effort.
The nine women highlighted here are each unique yet share a common bond. They are seeking an adventure or a way to better their lives, a commitment to the war effort, and a blind faith in their small part of a larger, unknown to them, project.
Equally interesting is the story of the companion effort underway in Los Alamos, New Mexico: 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the City of Los Alamos published in 2005.
The Girls of Atomic City
Someone, somewhere has compiled a list of books by most any imaginable subject or arrangement. This one caught my eye, especially for those of us who like books with “place” as a central theme.
50 States, 50 Novels: A Literary Tour of the United States
More books for my reading list….
Looking for Alaska
My book group had one of our most spirited conversations ever about The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. We had liked her previous book, Olive Kitteridge, so her new book was a logical choice for us.
Briefly this is the story of three siblings living with the guilt of their father’s death at a very early age. A crisis with their nephew compels the brothers to return to their Maine hometown. They revisit the tragedy, the relationship among the siblings, and the cultural divide between their small hometown and their current life.
We had so much to talk about….the relationship among the siblings, the action of the nephew that divides the small town, the Somali refugees, the marriage of Jim Burgess, family secrets. We even continued the conversation the next day on email!
This is a well-written, character driven story about family relationships. It is a good read alone or for a book group.
The Burgess Boys
You Know When the Men are Gone, a collection of eight loosely connected stories, is centered on Fort Hood, Texas. The title of the first story and the collection refers to what is not heard through the thin walls of military housing: no boots stomping, no football games, no early morning doors slamming as they leave for drills. You know the men have deployed.
The women and the children wait, they cope in different ways. The men on deployment cope in their ways also; the homecoming can be bittersweet, challenging.
These are personal stories, not political. The tone is straightforward, the stories are compelling. They put a human face on the news stories.
You Know When the Men are Gone
Detroit is described as our country’s greatest urban failure from once being a capitalist dream town.
As several reviewers have written, Detroit City is the Place to Be, captures the beauty and nobility of the city as well as the hardship and chaos. It is part history and part biography of a city and its people; a commentary on postindustrial America with some limited optimism for the future. The author grew up in the city and weaves in some personal narrative as well.
This may sound familiar to those who grew up in Detroit or Michigan. For those of us who were not here during the glory days of Detroit, it helps understand how and why Detroit became “a once-great American metropolis gone to hell” as one reviewer wrote.
This book provides the framework for our state, even our nation, to grapple with the issues facing Detroit.
Detroit City is the Place to Be