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.

 

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.

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

bad days in history

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Popular Book Series At The Library

book series

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.

 

Reading List: Black History Month

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February is Black History Month, and the library has many books by and about influential African Americans. Whether you want to learn more about Marcus Garvey or black women in the suffrage movement, there’s probably a book about it! Skim the list below and get started learning! Most of the books listed can currently be found on our first-floor display shelf.

*Book descriptions were provided by the publishers via the library catalog.

 

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Dubois

A singular combination of essays, memoir, and fiction, this book is a searing account of the situation of African Americans in the United States.

 

The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells by Ida B. Wells

The diaries of Wells, a noted journalist and activist, reveal nineteenth- and twentieth-century black life in a major southern city.

 

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American.

 

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

A phenomenal #1 bestseller that has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly three years, this memoir traces Maya Angelou’s childhood in a small, rural community during the 1930s.

 

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Sister Outsider presents essential writings of black poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde, an influential voice in 20th-century literature.

 

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Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Before John Glenn orbited the earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as ‘human computers’ used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation.

 

Harlem’s Glory: Black Women Writing by Various Authors

In poems, stories, memoirs, and essays about color and culture, prejudice and love, and feminine trials, dozens of African-American women writers – some famous, many just discovered – give us a sense of a distinct inner voice and an engagement with their larger double culture.

 

Vintage Baldwin by James Baldwin

In his novels, short stories, plays, and essays, James Baldwin broached issues such as race, sex, politics, and art.

 

Fight On! Mary Church Terrell’s Battle For Integration by Dennis B. Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin

Profiles the first black Washington, D.C. Board of Education member, who helped to found the NAACP and organized of pickets and boycotts that led to the 1953 Supreme Court decision to integrate D.C. area restaurants.

 

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King, Jr.

He was a husband, a father, a preacher- and the preeminent leader of a movement that continues to transform America and the world.

 

Read Through The Decade: 2010-2020

read through decade

If you want to revisit the past 10 years, reading the books that were published in that time period is a great start. The major discoveries and concerns of a decade are often reflected in its literature and nonfiction. We’ve listed a book that was published in each year from 2010-2019, leaving 2020 open for new books. Which of these recent books have you read?

All of these books are available at the library. Click the links to find where they are located, or ask for help at the Circulation Desk.

 

2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer, yet her cells–taken without her knowledge–became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years.

 

2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Waging a fierce competition for which they have trained since childhood, circus magicians Celia and Marco unexpectedly fall in love with each other and share a fantastical romance that manifests in fateful ways.

 

2012

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Read our review of Gone Girl here.

 

2013

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A young woman from Nigeria leaves behind her home and her first love to start a new life in America, only to find her dreams are not all she expected

 

2014

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.  But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow and Reds like him are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class. Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power.

 

2015

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction- if they don’t kill each other first.

 

2016

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape.

 

2017

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Memphis, Tennessee, 1936. The five Foss children find their lives changed forever when their parents leave them alone on the family shantyboat one stormy night. Rill Foss, just twelve years old, must protect her four younger siblings as they are wrenched from their home on the Mississippi and thrown into the care of the infamous Georgia Tann, director of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. South Carolina, Present Day. Avery Stafford has lived a charmed life. But when Avery comes home to help her father weather a health crisis and a political attack, a chance encounter with a stranger leaves her deeply shaken. Avery’s decision to learn more about the woman’s life will take her on a journey through her family’s long-hidden history.

 

2018

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Explores the life of one lighthouse as it beams its message out to sea through shifting seasons, changeable weather, and the tenure of its final keeper.

 

2019

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Eleven-year-old George Washington Black – or Wash – a field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is initially terrified when he is chosen to be the manservant of his master’s brother. To his surprise, however, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, they must abandon everything and flee.

 

2020

What will you read in 2020? Be on the lookout as new books are released and added to our shelves!

 

Book Review: “A Heart In A Body In The World” by Deb Caletti

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After completing my first marathon, I wanted to read a young adult (YA) book about running. I picked up A Heart In A Body In The World by Deb Caletti from the library’s Family Room. This novel is about much more than running (it has the major theme of dealing with a traumatic event) but running sets the framework for the main character, Annabelle, to begin the healing process.

Annabelle is a high school cross country runner who is in therapy and trying to deal with PTSD after a terrible event. On a whim, she decides to embark on a giant run from Seattle to Washington, D.C. Her grandfather helps her out, providing her with food and support from his RV. Soon her run turns into a cause, with hundreds around the country tuning in and showing support.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What A Heart In A Body In The World gets right: This has nothing do with the actual story, but wow, what a great cover!

As for the actual story: the hazards of running are really well described! When Annabelle freaked out in the shower because she hadn’t realized that she was chafed from her run, and the hot water was stinging her? That’s real, y’all . . . just take my word for it. And while she wishes for some Body Glide for chafing, let me tell you, that stuff only works some of the time.

It’s sad that recent, real-life events have made a novel like this so timely and necessary, but I’m glad that author Deb Caletti wasn’t afraid to tackle this kind of subject.

This book will show you the worst of humanity, but it also shows you the best of humanity: the surprising kindness of strangers, the willingness to support a good cause, and the love that a family has for each other. Annabelle’s story is both sobering and inspiring. It’s a story worth reading, even if you end up crying a little along the way.

What A Heart In A Body In The World does wrong: I personally am not the biggest fan of books that are written in present tense, so that took a little getting used to with this novel. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the “heart facts” that prefaced many of the chapters- they were interesting, but they took me out of the story.

Who should read A Heart In A Body In The World: Readers who enjoy running and young adult novels.

Who shouldn’t read A Heart In A Body In The World: While this book is certainly inspiring, it’s also very sad at times. If you’re looking for something more lighthearted to read, then pick up something different.

 

A Heart In A Body In The World is available in the library’s Family Room.

Content note: PTSD, gun violence, language.

Top 5 DIY Books At The Library

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Are you looking to learn a new skill or make a new craft? The library has several do-it-yourself (DIY) books that can help you complete your next project. From sewing to woodworking, these guides will take you from beginner to pro.

 

How To Decorate by Shannon Fricke

Shannon Fricke’s How To Decorate gives examples on the best interior design for your home or dorm. Read more about this book here.

 

McCall’s Essential Guide To Sewing by Brigitte Binder

Learn all of the basics of sewing and start a new project with McCall’s Essential Guide to Sewing. This book can also teach you how to mend tears and add embellishments to your fabric.

 

D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself by Ellen Lupton

D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself walks you through conception to creation with various design projects. This book is useful to those who may want to design their own t-shirt, wedding invitations, and even website upgrades.

 

Furniture Makeovers by Barb Blair

It’s easy to give your furniture a makeover with the tips and tricks in this book. You’ll learn how to spray paint, apply gold leaf, stencil, and more.

 

Put ‘Em Up! Fruit: A Preserving Guide and Cookbook by Sherri Brooks Vinton

Try your hand at preserving fruit through canning, refrigerating, freezing, drying, and infusing. Once you’ve preserved your fruit, this book also includes creative recipes for when you’re ready to use them!

 

Bonus:

The Woodwright’s Apprentice: Twenty Favorite Projects From The Woodright’s Shop by Roy Underhill

My mom watches The Woodwright’s Shop With Roy Underhill all the time; her father was a carpenter, and she enjoys learning all about woodworking. Through The Woodwight’s Apprentice book, you can now follow woodworking projects at your own pace.