Book Review: “Home” by Toni Morrison

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Last year, I read my first Toni Morrison book: Beloved. It was extremely well-written but deeply heavy in subject matter, so I had to take some time before I was ready to dive into another Morrison novel. Home is the story of Korean War veteran Frank and his quest to save his sister, Cee, and somehow find his place in a world that he doesn’t recognize. Coming in at less than 150 pages, it’s a short and fast read.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Home gets right: Cee’s struggles as a black woman trying to support herself were portrayed with compassion and understanding. Sure, Cee makes some honest mistakes, but by the end of the novel she has grown up and will hopefully be able to heal from her trauma.

Frank’s and Cee’s stories are sad ones, but Home ends on a hopeful note. Their sibling bond is powerful in a world where relationships between many men and women are difficult and even abusive.

What Home does wrong: This is a Toni Morrison novel, so if you thought you were going to get out of this reading unscathed and completely emotionally sound, you’re wrong. Morrison really surprised me with one of the plot points, and this unfortunate surprise made the rest of the book hard to read. However, having read Beloved, I knew that Morrison often tackles uncomfortable and disturbing issues in her books. Should have seen it coming!

Who should read Home: Readers who are interested in history, veterans, African American experiences in the U.S., and superb literary writing.

Who shouldn’t read Home: Readers who are looking for lighter subjects and writing styles.

 

Home is currently available at the library.

Content note: flashbacks include a disturbing scene, and Cee is horribly mistreated at the hands of a corrupt doctor. Reader discretion is advised.

Book Review: “Dreams From My Father” by Barack Obama

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Right now, I want you to set aside what you know about politics and Republicans and Democrats. Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams From My Father is not really about any of these things. It’s about racism and identity: a black man with a white family trying to find his place, and who he is, in an unfair, confusing world. Dreams From My Father follows Obama’s life through his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia to his acceptance to Harvard and his journey to Kenya.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Dreams From My Father gets right: Whether or not you voted for Obama or enjoyed his presidency, you can learn so much from this book. Obama speaks with the voice of someone who has thought a long, long time about what he’s going to say and how to say it in the best way possible. He’s not afraid to use harsh language or metaphors, but he tempers this anger with understanding. Even as a fiery college student, he recognizes that others haven’t read what he has, or don’t struggle with their identity in the same way he does, and he’s willing to look past the differences and reach across the boundaries.

I’m white, so I will never have the racist experiences and burdens that Obama has faced. Racism shaped and scarred his entire journey of self-discovery. Despite my own ignorance and disconnection to Obama’s struggles as a black man, I appreciated his willingness to open up; and what I can relate to and aspire to in his narrative is Obama’s drive for truth and justice. Like Obama (although for different reasons) I also went through several months of reading every black thinker I could find in the library: W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Marcus Garvey. And like Obama, I found that the man who made the most sense and greatest impact on my way of thinking, even though I definitely didn’t agree with his religion or his views on women, was Malcolm X.

Obama read these books as a young man for his survival; he did not have the luxury of reading a persecuted peoples’ history from a place removed as I did. I read these books to try and see the world through an opposite perspective of my own: a black male experience. Whatever your reason for reading these timeless classics, though, you will emerge with an enlightened view of how the world works and what we can do about it- the same tried and true lessons that you can learn from Dreams From My Father.

What Dreams From My Father does wrong: I loved this book because of how it fed me intellectually, so it’s hard for me to find much fault with it. I will note that there’s some uncomfortable language in it, but I think it’s warranted by the subject matter. It was also hard to read how women were treated in Obama’s Kenyan family (who were in a patriarchal culture where men could beat their wives and take multiple wives, whether the women consented or not).

Who should read Dreams From My Father: People who want to learn more about racism in the United States, and what it was like to grow up as a biracial man in the sixties and seventies. Readers who are interested in Obama’s life story and how he became the man he is today.

Who shouldn’t read Dreams From My Father: If you’re looking for something light to read or for a fiction book, then just add this one to your “TBR” list for now.

 

Dreams From My Father is available in print book and audiobook formats at the library.

Content note: language.

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Star Wars is as popular a franchise as it has ever been, and with the release of Solo, the franchise told an origin story of one of the most iconic characters: Han Solo. The film was directed by Ron Howard after there was an uproar by Disney executives and the film’s actors, who felt that the previous directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, had taken the wrong approach. As much as seventy percent of the film needed to be reshot as a result.

The plot of the film centers on a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) growing up on the crime-ridden world of Corellia. Han dreams of getting off-world, becoming a pilot, and making his fortune in the galaxy with his childhood friend Qi’ra (Emilia Clark).  These dreams are soon put on hold as Han is forced to join the Imperial Navy. Han dislikes war and serving the Empire, but he is soon court-marshaled for insubordination and desertion.  However, he befriends and teams up with a ferocious Wookie named Chewbacca, and the two make their escape.

Desperate and short of options, the duo join a thieving band of mercenaries led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) in order to survive.  The band of brigands are on a hunt for a powerful fuel source that can be sold illicitly on the black market. They are in debt to a powerful underworld criminal Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who orders them to take on the impossible task of stealing the fuel and then smuggling it back through hostile territory. Han agrees because he sees it as a way of redeeming himself to Qi’ra and wining back her affection.

What follows next is an exciting, fast-paced heist that tests the courage and morals of the band as Han begins to become the scoundrel who fans are more familiar with. By the end of the film, Han has to walk a fine line between doing what’s right and surviving in this morally gray, dog-eat-dog galaxy.

The film received mostly positive reviews from critics and fans alike. It can be difficult to appease everyone while not upsetting the established nostalgia of a character already played so well by Harrison Ford. Due to the reshoots and rewrites, Disney felt it underperformed with an over-blown budget and only breaking even at the box office. I, however, was pleasantly surprised by the film. I’m definitely a fan of the franchise’s off-shoots like Rogue One and The Mandalorian.

Solo is a fun film that adds depth to the ongoing legacy of the Star Wars universe. If you haven’t seen it yet, give it a watch.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is available at the Union University Library. It is rated PG-13.

 

 

Reading List: Valentine’s Day

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This Valentine’s Day, pick up a book with a little romance! The 10 books listed below are either about relationships or feature them in a memorable way.

 

Persuasion by Jane Austen

What happens when two people with a history meet once again, years later? Jane Austen’s characters come to life in this brief tale of romance and personal growth.

 

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simpson

Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) leads a quiet life in the village of St. Mary, England, until his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But will their relationship survive in a society that considers Ali a foreigner?

 

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Two misfits. One extraordinary love. Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds: smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is not just about children and teenagers fighting for their lives. It’s also about learning how to love someone, even if you’ve been stuck in survival mode for a long time.

 

Where The River Ends by Charles Martin

He was a fishing guide and struggling artist from a south George trailer park. She was the beautiful only child of South Carolina’s most powerful senator. Yet once Doss Michaels and Abigail Grace Coleman met by accident, they each felt they’d found their true soul mate.

 

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Edenbrooke: A Proper Romance by Julianne Donaldson

When Marianne receives an invitation to spend the summer with her twin sister in Edenbrooke, she has no idea of the romance and adventure that await her once she meets the dashing Sir Philip.

 

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

 

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This one’s a wild and tempestuous romance, but the classic Wuthering Heights has fascinated readers for years. At its center are Catherine and Heathcliff, and the self-contained world of Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange, and the wild Yorkshire moors that the characters inhabit.

 

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

The book in the famous series in which Harry, Hermione, and Ron are suddenly teenagers who are trying to figure out dating- as well as where Voldemort’s Horcruxes are.

 

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Henry

The love story of C.S. Lewis and his wife, Helen Joy Davidman Gresham, was improbable and seemingly impossible. Their Eros-story led to some of Lewis’s greatest works, yet Joy is most commonly known for how she died. Becoming Mrs. Lewis allows us to see how this brilliant and passionate woman lived.

Book Review: “Educated” by Tara Westover

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Educated took the book-loving world by storm when it was published in 2018. It’s also been consistently checked out from the library since we ordered it. In this powerful memoir, Tara Westover describes her unconventional upbringing and how finally gaining access to formal education changed her life.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Educated does right: Westover’s story is heartbreaking, but it needs to be told. You’ll learn about the horrors of family violence, abuse, undiagnosed mental illness, and willful ignorance in this book. However, you’ll also learn about the power of education and the hope for a better tomorrow. The times I teared up from the book were not because of the sad situations (although there were many), but because of how proud I was of Westover for doing well in school, in spite of all odds.

What Educated gets wrong: This is not a critique of the book (it’s hard to critique memoirs from a content standpoint anyway), but more of a warning for readers: this one will hurt you. My student assistant, Mya, warned me that I would be angry while reading this book, and she was 100% right. There’s a lot of misinformation and injustice regarding Tara Westover’s family and upbringing.

For example (spoiler): the Westovers survive a bad car wreck but don’t go to the hospital due to their distrust of the “medical establishment,” which results in serious trauma and long-term injuries. So what do they do the next time they’re driving on a long trip? They let the dad take the wheel; he drives super fast to prove a dumb point; and then they have ANOTHER deadly car wreck in which, guess what, they don’t seek medical attention AGAIN. It’s infuriating to read this through the lens of a brainwashed child who knows something isn’t quite right, but who can’t articulate what it is and defends her father even though he constantly endangers her life. It’s even sadder when she’s old enough and educated enough to know that her family is not treating her the way they should, but she still reaches out to them and tries to help them even as they destroy her.

Who should read Educated: Fans of true stories. Family members who have lived with and understand serious mental illnesses. Teachers of rural children. Anyone who wants to know how NOT to raise your child (like, living in a rural area is totally fine, but throwing scrap metal at your child is not).

Who shouldn’t read Educated: If your blood pressure goes up every time you read about children in danger (like mine does), think twice before picking this one up. The negligent and downright abusive way that these children were raised is mind-blowing.

Clean Out Your Computer Day (February 10th)

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Computers can be finicky, daunting little machines whose sole purpose is to confuse you with weird errors and problems out of nowhere. However, you don’t have to be some kind of tech wizard to save your computer (and your sanity). As with anything you use, your computer needs to be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis. While this may seem equal parts boring and scary, it actually isn’t as hard as you might think. That’s why we have put together a list of resources to help you help your computer. And since February 10th is Clean Out Your Computer Day, you can really get into the techie holiday spirit.

  • Our lovely friend Wired Magazine’s all purpose computer physical and digital cleaning guide.

  • Cleaning your computer’s guts (with pictures!)

  • Maintenance tasks for Windows that you should do more often.

  • When computers rebel: basic repairs you don’t have to pay anyone to do.

  • The all purpose resource to just about every common computer problem

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The Matrix”

In 1999, the science fiction film style of cyberpunk was turned upside down with a revolutionary film that would come to define the genre for decades. This film was The Matrix, written and directed by a sibling team collectively known as the Wachowskis.  The film is set in the dystopian future of a large city where people go about mundane and dogmatic lives. We are introduced to our protagonist, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), who works as a computer analyst by day and a jaded internet hacker by night with the alias of Neo. He begins to question the order of things in the world and is puzzled by the reappearance of the phrase “The Matrix” online in hacker chat rooms.

Neo agrees to meet with an infamous hacker know as Trinity, played by Carrie-Anne Moss. Trinity reassures him that the answers he seeks are held by a man named Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), but he must be prepared for the consequences. Neo is soon caught by the authorities led by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). Smith warns Neo that Morpheus is a terrorist and the most dangerous man on the planet. Undeterred, Neo finally meets with Morpheus and his group of followers where he is giving a choice between two pills: one red and one blue. The red will answer his questions about the matrix, and the blue will make him forget and he can return to his normal life. Neo chooses the red pill, and the reality around him begins to distort. He then awakens in a nightmarish world but is soon rescued and brought aboard a hovering ship.

It is explained to Neo that his world is a simulation of the 21st century and, in reality, it’s closer to the 22nd century. Morpheus explains that, in the past, mankind went to war with an advanced form of artificial intelligence and lost the war. As a result, humans are now made to serve the machines as incubators for energy, and the Matrix was designed to give humans the appearance of a normal world to hide them from the fact that they are slaves to the machines. Morpheus and the few remaining humans unplugged from the Matrix believe that one day there will be a prophetic one who can defeat the machines and liberate humanity. Morpheus believes Neo is the one prophesied and begins training him for the conflict to come. Throughout his training, Neo questions Morpheus’s faith in him as he doesn’t feel special. But once disaster strikes, it falls to Neo and Trinity to attempt to save humanity from the machines.

The Matrix would go on to become a trilogy and spawn a multitude of spin-offs, graphic novels, and video games. The cinematic nature of the Matrix was ground-breaking for introducing cinema to a blend of high wire stunt chorography, Kung-Fu, and slow-motion cinematography aptly named “Bullet Time.” The themes expressed in The Matrix are as varied as they are transcending: the classic epic hero myth aspects of both Christianity and Buddhism, Platonic thought, and Utopianism.

The film review website Rotten Tomatoes still hold it at a solid 88% fresh. In 2012, it was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant. The Matrix is a detailed film that will continue to be studied for decades. If you would like to re-watch this masterpiece or watch it for the very first time, I encourage you to do so.  The Matrix is available at the Union University Library.  Please note it is rated R for violence and some language.

 

Book Review: “Bad Days In History” by Michael Farquhar

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To kick off the start of a new semester and to put a little bit of a spin on my Moments in History blog series, I have found an interesting book that chronicles random events that occurred on each day of the year: Bad Days in History: A Gleefully Grim Chronicle of Misfortune, Mayhem, and Misery for Every Day of the Year by Michael Farquhar. The events include various political disasters, military blunders, international scandals, and general accounts of bad luck.

One example is on November 2nd, 1932: The Great Emu War in Australia began, which pitted a company of soldiers against 20,000 emus that were destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of crops. Another grisly incident is how on January 15th, 1919, two million gallons of molasses exploded in a storage tank in Boston, Massachusetts, sending a 15 foot wall of hot molasses rushing through the streets at 35 mph (killing 21 people and injuring another 150). The book brings up other malicious events, like how on January 27th, 1595, the Ottoman Emperor Mehmed III had his 19 brothers put to death on the day of his coronation. This practice was instituted to prevent rivalry and potential civil war in the empire.

Those are just 3 of the 365 moments in history this book has to offer. I encourage you, if are a fan of random history moments like myself, to give this book a read. I found it thoroughly entertaining, and I hope you will as well.

This book is available at the Union University Library.

 

 

 

 

 

3 Places Where You Can View Local Art

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While people may assume that you have to live in a big city to have access to good art, that simply isn’t true. There are plenty of places here in West Tennessee alone that have fantastic work to offer. Here are three places in the West Tennessee area where you can get your art fix (and maybe take home some of your own).

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Companion Gallery
Based in Humboldt, the Companion Gallery is a high quality ceramic gallery, store, and studio. With a variety of works from many different creators nationwide, it’s an incredible view into the world of ceramic art. There’s no fee to enter the gallery space, and most, if not all, of the works are for sale. Throughout the year, they will host special showings and gallery openings spotlighting a specific artist, technique or theme. In addition, you can get in on the action as well. They offer pottery lessons at a variety of levels, so even if you haven’t touched clay once in your life, you’ll be in good hands.
Mon-Sat 11am-6pm
3600 East Mitchell Street (Hwy 152), Humboldt, TN 38343

Belz Museum
In the heart of Memphis within the Peabody Place there is a museum with absolutely jaw-dropping contents. The Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art, founded in 1998, is unofficially dubbed the “jade museum” for good reason. Giant, intricately-carved statues made of jade and ivory are displayed alongside Qing dynasty vases and gigantic tapestries. In the Judaic art section, Holocaust memorials and Jewish contemporary artwork reside.
Tues-Fri 10am-5:30pm
Sat-Sun  12pm-5pm
119 South Main Street, Concourse Level
Memphis, TN 38103

West Tennessee Regional Art Center
Residing on Humboldt’s Main Street in the refurbished city hall building, the West Tennessee Regional Art Center boasts an impressive variety of work. The center contains everything from colonial American portraits, Southern folk art, traditional African sculpture, and everything in between.  They pride themselves on being the only fine arts museum between Memphis and Nashville, and they host a number of exhibitions and events throughout the year.
Mon-Fri 9am-4pm
1200 Main Street, Humboldt, TN 38343

Top 5 Popular Book Series At The Library

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What is your favorite book series? Other than items on Reserve, books from popular series are the most checked out items in the library. Read the list below to see which ones our patrons enjoy.

 

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

This series has been so popular here at the library that we’ve gotten a second set of copies! We also have the lovely illustrated versions, the movies, and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

 

Percy Jackson & The Olympians series by Rick Riordan

The Percy Jackson books practically fly off the shelves in our Family Room. Old and young readers alike will enjoy these mythically-based adventures.

 

A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin

While readers are still waiting for George R.R. Martin to finish the next book, we have all of his current A Song of Ice and Fire books here at the library. We also have the Game of Thrones companion book Fire And Blood, which tells the history of the Targaryen family.

 

The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

This wouldn’t be a list of popular series without the timeless classics of The Lord of The Rings trilogy (and The Hobbit). The movies are also available in our DVD section!

 

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

We recently acquired the last few books in this dynamic fantasy series. The Throne of Glass books can be found in our Family Room.

 

Bonus: Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer

Revisit the wildly popular (and possibly the most infamous) book series of the early 2000s. We have all of the Twilight novels and a Twilight novella at the library.