Posts Tagged ‘Civil Rights Era’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Clare B’s Picks

December 22, 2014

I read both fiction and non-fiction.  I prefer books that have rich characters, who feel like people I know by the time I finish the book.  Here are the best books I read in 2014.

Ten Things I've Learnt About LoveTen Things I’ve Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler
Alice is a wanderer, unable to decide on a career.  She has a strained relationship with her family, but has returned to England to be with her father during his final days.  Daniel is a middle aged homeless man on the streets of London, who uses found items to make small, transient art pieces.  He is also searching for the daughter he has never met.  The chapters in this amazing debut novel, alternate between Alice’s and Daniel’s voice, as events lead them inexorably towards each other.

The Death of SantiniThe Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son by Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy returns to his troubled relationship with his father in this excellent biography, where he also explores the dynamics between he and his siblings, particularly his sister Carol.  In the prologue, Conroy says that he has been “writing the story of my own life for over forty years…but I must examine the wreckage one last time”.  He does, using soaring language, and descriptions that are both tragic and hilarious.  The picture Conroy paints is not always pretty, and at times he is especially brutal in describing his own actions.  However, Pat Conroy is the ultimate storyteller, and that amazing talent shines in this retelling of his life.

March, Book OneMarch, Book One by John Lewis
I am not generally a fan of graphic novels.  However, this is perhaps the most powerful book I have read this year, and I think the format is an excellent way to describe the Civil Rights struggles.  Congressman Lewis recounts his early meeting with Martin Luther King, which led to his commitment to the non-violence movement.  Illustrator Nate Powell’s images help bring to life the incredible bravery and determination of the young men and women who risked their lives to right the horrible wrong of segregation.

The Other TypistThe Other Typist  by Suzanne Rindell
New York City in the 1920s:  women’s roles are changing, Prohibition is in full swing, and crime is hidden right in front of you.  Odalie Lazare is the new member of the typing pool at a police precinct.  Beautiful, mysterious, sometimes charming, sometimes cold, she fascinates the staid, reliable typist, Rose Baker.  Odalie pulls Rose into her world of intrigue with the promise of friendship and excitement.  Told in Rose’s voice, this satisfying tale will leave you asking, “what just happened?”

Guests on EarthGuests on Earth by Lee Smith
Evalina Toussaint, an orphan, arrives at Asheville, NC’s famed Highland Hospital, in 1936. Her mother has died, her father is unknown. she is alone, abandoned and has virtually shut down.  Dr. Carroll, the hospital administrator, and his wife, a concert pianist, take Evalina under their wings.  Part patient, part ward of the Carrolls, Evalina lives at Highland on and off over the next several decades, as she struggles to find a life for herself.  Smith has not only written a well-crafted novel, but she has also explored the changing attitudes about mental illness, and its treatment, using the factual story of Highland Hospital and the tragic fire that killed its most famous patient, Zelda Fitzgerald.  Zelda has a cameo role in the novel, providing a fleeting, but enduring influence on Evalina.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Amy W’s Picks

December 16, 2014

According to this post, it seems I only read coming of age literary novels and hard-hitting non-fiction. But really look at it this way, I have spent a summer on an Ojibwe Indian reservation and in a small Midwest town both faced with terrible crimes, followed a Civil Rights icon on our nation’s path to equality, lived in rural Mississippi a few days before Hurricane Katrina hit and examined the day to day life of soldiers returning home with PTSD and/ or traumatic brain injury. I learned a lot, not just facts, but also about the human spirit.

The Round HouseRound House by Louise Erdrich
This book grabbed me in the first paragraph. The narrative is compelling as Joe, his tribal judge father and his community try to process the violent crime committed against his mother. The investigation is complex since his mother, traumatized, is unable to provide details and the laws governing the reservation and state laws strangle any chance of justice with red tape. Joe and his friends decide to take matters in their own hands. Erdrich balances this story nicely, with humor and excitement but also a serious examination of justice. This book also makes a great book club discussion.

Thank You for Your ServiceThank You for Your Service by David Finkel
Journalist David Finkel follows members of the US 2-16 Infantry Battalion as they return home from service in Iraq. The soldiers often hear the sentiment “Thank you for your service” from appreciative Americans. However, that appreciation, no matter how heart-felt, has no real impact on their day to day life at home after returning from war. Many of the soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and/or traumatic brain injury. Their families are at a loss when it comes to caring for them, the public cannot seem to grasp the pain of invisible injuries and veteran assistance, when available, can also require great sacrifice ultimately adding to the stress of daily life. A notable book of 2013, Thank You for Your Service is a close look at the tragedy of a war that never ends for members of the armed forces.

The Devil in the GroveDevil in the Grove by Gilbert King
The Pulitzer prize-winning book is Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King and it is much more than an account of the trial of three young African-American men accused of kidnapping and raping a white woman in rural 1948 Florida. It is a detailed glimpse in the complex machinations of the Civil Rights Movement as played out in the courtroom. Marshall’s landmark case Brown v. Board of Education (1954 Supreme Court decision disallowing school segregation) was the result of years of planning and small victories that ultimately overturned Plessy v. Ferguson. I just had no real understanding of the complex planning it took to make it to that one important case. Thurgood Marshall (chief counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund) and the NAACP frequently took on lots of cases like the Groveland Boys. Their strategy was never acquittal but to kick the case up to higher courts through appeals with a decision that not only acquits the innocent but also has broader significance to civil rights with each case building on top of one another. If you think this book sounds like a somewhat interesting, but probably overly detailed academic snooze fest you are wrong. Devil in the Grove is a well-written, accessible and at times, a page-turner.  See my full review.

Ordinary GraceOrdinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Life is idyllic in a small, northern Minnesota town during the summer of 1961 until the town is rocked by a series of murders. 13 year-old Frank Drum gets caught up in the the excitement as he and his friends speculate about who may have committed the sinister acts. Frank’s amateur investigations reveals the complexities of life in a simple, small town as those around him struggle with their life decisions. Ordinary Grace is a beautifully written, compelling page turner.

Salvage the BonesSalvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
It wasn’t that the Batiste family decided to stay in their home while Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast, it was that they had bigger battles consuming their lives. Every chapter moves the storm one day closer with some chapters the storm is not mentioned at all. Having never recovered from the death of their mother, Esch (the narrator), her brothers and her alcoholic father live a hand to mouth existence in rural Mississippi. As the storm approaches, their lives become unraveled. Esch, is fifteen, pregnant and alone with her secret. At a time Esch needs a mother the most, the memories of her mother fade all too quickly. This 2011 National Book Award winner is a tough read. Sometimes I find a book so incredibly heart-breaking, I struggle to turn the page and consider closing the book. Ward, growing up in the rural Gulf Coast did not have a chance to turn the page either or close the book on her life. Instead, she put words to paper creating a beautiful novel, rich in hope.  See my full review.


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