During high school I visited Ellis Island with members of my school’s wind ensemble. While many of my compatriots excitedly used the database to explore their familial origins, I didn’t bother. Both my sets of grandparents came to America in the early seventies on an airplane. My roots don’t extend into a mysterious past.
However, for Alex Haley, understanding his family’s heritage was not just a personal matter. Roots: The Saga of an American Family is all but a part of American history. What’s kept me from finishing this epic journey of “the African” and the generations of Black-Americans that followed was its dry, informative style, something the TV series was able to dramatize to great effect.
Once again it’s Audible to the rescue with Avery Brooks’ unabridged reading of Roots. I think Brooks narration brings to life both his and Haley’s original passion and fervor to tell this story–a story we may not personally share, but one we’re a part of within this continuum of race relations in the United States.
|Recommended by J. Harbinger||Thursday, June 25th, 2015||No Comments »|
Hanna Tinti’s first novel The Good Thief obviously reflects her previous work with short stories, delivering stark, lyrical prose that pulls a reader into the doggedly ill-fated life of orphan, Ren.
Ren’s life makes Dickens’ David Copperfield look privileged. Missing a hand and taken in by con-artists turned gravediggers, Ren is embroiled in mysteries of his past and present, which will merge and crash together in a strange, twisting conclusion.
There’s a certain feeling of nostalgia when reading The Good Thief. It has all the elements of a YA novel—the young protagonist, unknown past, air of mysticism—but it’s somehow matured. There’s a self-awareness of its spinning plot and flights of fancy that makes it an intriguing read, a story that feels familiar but told with a new sense of style and flare.
|Recommended by J. Harbinger||Wednesday, March 25th, 2015||No Comments »|
The Count of Monte Cristo is on every must-read list, but with so many satisfying movie adaptations it’s hard to commit to such a thick volume. Being paid by the word, Alexander Dumas was not a fan of brevity, however that did not change the fact that The Count of Monte Cristo is a real page turner with plenty of quote worthy lines—”The difference between treason and patriotism is only a matter of dates.” Edmond Dantès has the ultimate story arc with the kind of revenge plot that we’ve all dreamt of when dealing with terrible bosses or erstwhile companions.
Like when most people read the original after being familiar with the adaptation, there’s a novelty in discovering the differences. One is that no 131 minute film can capture how much of a pimp the Count was. At one point in the book he gathers his friends over to a dinner party at his house, points out two exotic fish, and tells them he thought it would be amusing to have two fish that could never meet in nature and bring them together on his table. Another is that while Edmond does eventually learn to overcome his god-complex by the end of the novel, Dumas does not deliver the Hollywood end we’re used to, and it really is better for it.
|Recommended by J. Harbinger||Thursday, March 19th, 2015||No Comments »|
Tim Powers’ classic sci-fi novel The Anubis Gates is a thrilling adventure story with a fascinating cast of characters. The story revolves around a scholar named Brendan Doyle who is on the hunt to look deeper into the life of poet William Ashbless. When he finds himself a new job, the gig turns out to be like nothing Doyle has ever heard before—he gets paid to travel through time with a group of passengers to see a lecture by Samuel Taylor Coolridge. During his bizarre journey, he meets members of the Knights Templar, ancient Gods, ancient Egyptian sorcerers, werewolves, and other preternatural beings.
|Recommended by Amanda Ferris||Monday, June 2nd, 2014||No Comments »|
Author Sung J. Woo, who wrote Everything Asian, sat down with Skokie Public Library to allow readers to get to know him a little bit better. Woo spends most of the interview discussing his own personal experiences with being an immigrant in the U.S. He discusses how in some respects, the experiences of the main character in his debut novel Everything Asian mirrored the ones he had while growing up. However, Woo warns that while the “framework” of the novel is “definitely autobiographical,” not everything that his characters experience is exactly what he had to deal with as a child.
Woo explains his debut novel wasn’t written to be just a “single story” told from the point of view of a “limited first person narrative.” Instead, he hoped to encompass the entire community and show his readers just how difficult it is to try and maintain the balance between two cultures. For example, Woo says he had to “learn to be an American” by working at his parents’ Oriental gift shop (his words, not ours), as well as undergo intense instruction at his school’s ESL program. “In both respects,” Woo says with a smile, “it was a great education.” See? The American dream can come true.
|Recommended by Amanda Ferris||Tuesday, May 13th, 2014||No Comments »|
In Diary of a Wildflower, readers follow Lorelei Starr as she grows up in awful poverty in 1920s Appalachia and watches as the women in her family succumb to an early grave. She decides that she wants to fight for her independence and leaves her childhood home of Starr Mountains. Although education is hard to come by, thanks to a friendly teacher, Starr is able to finish high school and goes on to become a maid in a wealthy home in Charlottesville.
Starr becomes dazzled by the flappers and the speakeasies that make up the ‘20s, but before she becomes overwhelmed by the handsome men that reek of “old money,” one visit to her childhood home reminds her that she is strong enough to break the cycle of hopelessness that envelopes the women in her family. This inspires her to fight for her own independence and find a happy ending on her own terms.
|Recommended by Amanda Ferris||Monday, May 12th, 2014||No Comments »|
Everyone knows the famous artists of the Renaissance: Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, etc. However, unless you’re an art historian, you probably haven’t heard of the female artist Artemisia Gentileshci. In Susan Veerland’s The Passion of Artemisia, the plucky heroine is a decidedly modern woman whom readers can sympathize with. The story begins with a public humiliation as she accuses Agostino Tassi, an assistant in her father’s painting studio in Rome, of raping her. Of course, in Renaissance Italy, no one believes her and instead sides with her rapist.
|Recommended by Amanda Ferris||Thursday, May 1st, 2014||No Comments »|