"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Friday Quotes---Dear Fahrenheit 451

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian's Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

Book Beginnings:
"Dear The Goldfinch, We've grown apart. Or, I guess, you've grown apart. Like, physically. Your spine is torn to crap. The hardest part about this? I'm the one who did it to you. I love you so much, Goldfinch."
Friday 56: 
"Dear The Fledgling...When people say books are full of wonder, we don't take it seriously enough. You are over thirty-five years old. You smell like old paper and smudged fingertips. You've lain dusty and untouched for decades. And you're magic. You are. You can't work wonders for everyone because, like things with magic inside them, you have to wait for the right hands to touch you at just the right moment." 
Comments: The first of this book is so cute with Annie Spence, a public librarian writing letters, mostly loving ones, to books. The second part of the book is her suggested book pairings, a unique way of making reading recommendations. It is a fun, often funny book.

Monday, April 16, 2018

TTT: My favorite books from each of the past ten years

Top Ten Tuesday: Today is free choice so I decided to list my favorite book from each of the past ten years. Making up my own rules: I read these books during the year listed, they weren't necessarily published that year.

2018 (so far)
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
I just finished listening to the audiobook last night so it is quite fresh in my mind. The story is devastating but the writing is phenomenal. (Pub. 2017)

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
Right up my alley: quirky, funny, poignant, sad, hopeful, and tremendously satisfying.  (Pub. 2016)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
I was blown away by this Pulitzer Prize winning novel about a DR-American guy who is a complete misfit until he goes home to the Dominican Republic (Pub. 2007)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer
This is one of those books that I think about all the time. The writing was just spectacular. (Pub. 2014)

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
This coming-of-age tale is so magical. I just love it. (Pub. 1972)

The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The most delightful, off-beat cast of characters one ever hopes to meet. This is especially good in the audio format. (Pub. 1980)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Something about this book really struck a chord within me. It was a tough but rewarding read. (Pub. 2006)

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
I am jealous of people who haven't read this book yet because when they do they will get to experience it for the first time themselves. What a funny, funny book, especially in the audio format. (Pub. 1979)

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
This may not have been my favorite book if you had asked me in 2010, but looking back I think about this book ALL the time. It has really made a big impression on me. (Pub. 2004)

Couch by Benjamin Parzybok
Lord of the Rings except instead of a ring, there is a couch. It is so funny. (Pub. 2008)
(This might not be my favorite book of 2009, but it my favorite from among the few I listed on Goodreads for that year, the first year I kept track on the site.)

Note: When making retrospective lists like this I am aware that this list is a refection in part of how I am feeling today. If I made this list tomorrow likely it would contain different books.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sing, Unburied, Sing. A quick review.

I am in a rush to write this review tonight for Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. Why? Because the Pulitzer Prizes are being announced tomorrow and I have a funny feeling that this is the book which will take the top prize for fiction literature this year. And I want the world to know that I picked it, too!

Sing, Unburied, Sing is a tough book to read because it deals with a tough topic. In fact, I am not sure I will ever "recommend" this book since I doubt anyone will every say that they like it and by extension will wonder about my taste. But the writing. Oh my, the writing.

The story is about a multi-generational family living in Mississippi, barely eking out an existence on a small farm. It is told through the voices of several narrators: Jojo, a 13-year-old son of a black mother and white father; Leonie, his drug-addicted mother; and the tortured soul of a boy, now a ghost, that Pop, Jojo's granddad, knew when he was imprisoned in Parchment, the Mississippi State Penitentiary. The story begins with a torturous road trip when Leonie insists that her children accompany her and a drug-using friend to pick up their white father, who coincidentally has also been imprisoned in Parchment. Leonie has the best intentions of making this trip a fine, family event but things are doomed from the start. The kids don't want to go, they want to stay with their Mam and Pop. Leonie doesn't seem to be able to love her children with any kind of consistency. Once on the road, everything goes wrong: a side trip to buy and sell drugs, Kayla, the young 3-year-old daughter, gets sick and keeps throwing up; no provisions of food and water are offered to the children until much too late, and Leonie and Misty spend the night getting high. Leonie wants to be a good mom, but can't pull it off for long because she is jealous of the relationhship her children have with each other,
“But another part of me wants to shake Jojo and Michaela awake, to lean down and yell so they startle and sit up so I don't have to see the way they turn to each other like plants following the sun across the sky. They are each other's light.”
If that isn't bad enough, once they get to the penitentiary to pick up their boyfriend/father, the ghost of Richie enters the car, wanting to share the story of how he dies. Jojo and Kayla can both see and hear him. The trip home to the farm is just as harrowing as the first leg.

Once they finally get home, the traumas do not end. Death is around the corner and the whole house and yard seems to be filled with ghosts: Given, who died in an "accident"; Richie; and so many others that Jojo thinks a tree is filled with them. One thing all these ghosts have in common---they are died tortuous deaths. Ghosts of the tortures of past in African American families---lynchings, unjustified deaths, all heart-breaking circumstances.

Last week I was watching a news program which highlighted a new museum, The National Museum of Peace and Justice "dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence." Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, explained to the host that our history of lynching and our inability to disavow our past and seek reconciliation is keeping our country stuck in our racist attitudes. Learning about the lynchings, the horrors of these deaths, naming the people who died, can help us start healing. 

Writing for the Washington Post, Ron Charles said, "In Sing, Unburied, Sing Ward employs several strangely tethered narrators and allows herself to reach back in time while keeping this family chained to the rusty stake of American racism." The family may be living today, but they are still haunted by the ghosts of the past and carry them around with them wherever they go.

This book just about broke my heart but I think it is so important that we all raise our awareness about the injustices that just keep coming. And as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "A time comes when silence is betrayal." We can no longer stay silent. I hope this book moves all of its readers to speak out against injustices everywhere, especially toward those people still chained to the past.

Now we wait to see if I am correct. Will Sing, Unburied, Sing win the Pulitzer Prize tomorrow? I hope so.

1:30 PM, PDT

I was wrong. I admit it. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction is Less by Andrew Greer. I have placed a hold for the audiobook at the library. I am looking forward to reading it since it sounds like a romantic comedy and I have only been reading really serious stuff lately. Here is a quick synopsis of the book:

A breakout romantic comedy by the bestselling author of five critically acclaimed novels
Who says you can't run away from your problems?
You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can't say yes—it would be too awkward—and you can't say no—it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.
QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday Quotes and Review: The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

Book Beginning: Each chapter begins with a short poem and a photo showing the stages of insect development---egg to egg and every stage in between.

Friday 56: The book is full of examples of the illustrations/art by Maria Merian. She always included insects in her drawings. This is an example of her pen and ink work. She would personally colorize these drawings in her special editions of books.

Comments and review: When I was young I wanted to be an artist. I especially loved working with pen and ink, so when I saw the drawings by Maria Merian I was especially enraptured by the art. But I think that Maria is probably best known for her work identifying the stages of insect development. She was a keen observer and would actually collect eggs and caterpillars and note what happened next. Unbelievably, in the late 1600s, when she lived, people thought that insects just emerged fully formed from corpses or the like. They also thought that people who spent time poking around in things that people didn't understand were suspect. Maria Merian had to be careful to not be labeled as a witch. Fortunately she was raised in a publishing family and both her father and step-father taught her how to draw and create the lovely flower paintings, otherwise her femaleness would have been a barrier to her talents. When Maria was in her forties, she traveled to Suriname in South America with one of her daughters. There she discovered many insects and animals that Europeans had never seen before. She brought home many samples and people were amazed. As soon as she could, though her health was not good, she set about creating a book with her diagrams showing what she discovered during her time in Suriname. This work still stands as a treasure, though she made some mistakes, many of her discoveries led to later work by other scientists and memorialized creatures which have become extinct.
"Fortunately, today's scientists, historians, and art collectors have rediscovered and acknowledged her work for what it is: amazingly beautiful, accurate portrayals of insect metamorphoses and ecosystems. her words and artwork told fascinating, intertwined stories to a public still highly suspicious of insects...The word ecology was not invented until more than fifty years after her death, but once again, Maria was ahead of her time. Many have called her the world's first ecologist" (119-120).
I loved this book. It was written by an artist, not a writer. That fact makes me smile. I love it that it was a woman who helped the world see the beauty and importance of insects. All those old, classically trained men couldn't figure it out, but Maria, with keen skills at observation figured out what should have been obvious. And her art. It is so lovely.

This YouTube video includes LOTS of samples of her paintings and illustrations and it set to Handel's music. (Handel and Merian were alive at the same time.) Even if you don't want to watch all 11 minutes of it, at least click to start the video so you can see more examples of her art. Lovely.

The book is written for a younger audience,  lets say for middle school students. I always wonder what kids would read books like this, though. But maybe there is some science or artsy student who wants to read an inspiring story of combining art and scientific observation. The book includes a table of contents, lots of examples of Maria Merian's work, a timeline of her life, quotes sources, a thorough bibliography, image credits and a short index. All of these make this book a very very credible resource for research or school projects. I recommend it highly to everyone, not just young teens.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

TTT: Books I Won't Reread Because the Magic Might Fade

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Won't Reread Because the Magic Might Fade
I rarely reread books anyway but these books all hold a magical spot in my head and I am afraid that a reread would render them magic-less.

1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I loved this book and the whole experience of it. At 771 pages, it is an unlikely reread anyway.

2. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
This book is almost mythical in my memory. Not sure if I would want to dispel it.

3. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The writing is beautiful and lyrical, even if the topic is depraved. I will let this one live in my mind in a happy place by not rereading it.

4. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
I love, love, love this book...or at least I think I do. What if I reread it and didn't love it anymore?

5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Actually I did reread this book and it shattered my happy, childish memory of it. Proving my point about rereads!

6. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
I love the author and his writing but this book is too disturbing to reread.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sunday Salon, April 8

Glass art by Dale Chihuly at the Tacoma Art Museum
Weather: Rainy, with a bit of extra wind. We seem to have developed two "ponds" and a "creek" in our backyard overnight to accommodate the extra water.

Easter: Last Sunday we celebrated the resurrection of Christ in a festive worship service at church then enjoyed a brunch with family at our home afterwards: a cousin's daughter, a niece and her husband, our daughter, grandson, and son-in-law joined us for the day. We feel so blessed.

Today is called Low Sunday: Last year I attended my parent's church the week after Easter when the pastor explained why the service was filled with comics and jokes. It was a fun, new church experience for me. So today, remembering last year, I did a bit of research to find out why it is called Low Sunday and discovered "from a poor translation of the Latin name, Dominica in deponendis." Of course this means nothing to me, so I will drop it.

My prayer for the day (week, month, year): "Lord, please break my heart for the things that break your heart."
Dr. Seuss Thing 1 &2. Guess this makes Ian Thing 3.

The week before Easter both of my sisters were here: We hosted a brunch on Sunday, then on Monday, Kathy, Grace (and her hubby), and I explored the funky part of Seattle near where Grace's daughter and son-in-law live. We crawled on the troll under the Aurora Bridge, visited the statue of Lenin and cold war era rocket, and went on a tour of Theo's chocolate factory. Fun!

Spring Break: This past week was Spring break for my daughter, a teacher, so I had a break from babysitting, though I did see my grandson several times. Don took the day off Wednesday so we spent the day doing something special. We started the day at the gym (Don on the machines, me in water aerobics); next we went to see the new exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum on immigrant art; followed by lunch at The Red Hot, where I had a Hound Dog (hot dog with peanut butter!); and then on to a movie at our favorite indie theater and saw "The Death of Stalin", which was supposed to be a tragi-comedy but I didn't think it was very funny.

A week of reading and blogging: The weather hasn't been fine so I've spent a lot of time inside reading and attempting to catch up on my blog reviews. The problem, of course, is the more I read, the more reviews I needs to write.

Here is a list of the books I have finished the last two weeks (click on hyperlinks for reviews):
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline---a reread for me, I listened to the audiobook here in Washington State, while Carly was listening to it in New York. We compared notes afterwards. Now I am ready to see the movie.
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler---my Classics Club Spin book, this one involves time travel back to the early days of our country and to witness slavery up close and personal. I recommend it.
  • Chasing King's Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Killer by James Swanson---I really liked this YA book and the timing was perfect since this past week was the fiftieth anniversary of this assassination.
  • Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man by Tonya Bolden---I seem to be on a theme of reading books related to slavery and civil rights. In fact, I wrote a blog post about the theme called "Musings and books on slavery, civil rights, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr."
Books I am currently reading (Don't laugh, I know it is a lot):
Painting by Maria Merian
  • The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman---I am really enjoying this book about a phenomenal artist and scientist who lived in the 1600s. The book's target audience is upper elementary or middle schoolstudents, but I think all adults will love it, too. (Print, 34%)
  • Devotions: Selected Poems by Mary Oliver---I am delightedly making my way through this tome of a book by my favorite poet. No rush. If I read a few a day, I am doing good. (Print, 46%)
  • Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump by Michael Isikoff and David Corn---more political and inflammatory information about the state of our government and world. Frightening and maddening. (Print, 12%)
  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan---set during WWII, Anna is a civilian diver for the US Navy. (Audio, 57%)
  • The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement---essays by Taylor Branch, a civil rights historian. (Print, 20%)
  • The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin---I am just one chapter in on this classic fantasy novel, the first in a popular series. (E-book, 8%)
Lovely: Have a listen.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Chasing King's Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Assassin

Back in 2007 author James L. Swanson published a book about Lincoln's assassination and the hunt for his killer, Manhunt. Two years later in 2009 he published a pared down version of that book for the YA audience entitled The Chase for Lincoln's Killer. In 2013 Swanson did the same thing with the John F. Kennedy assassination publishing an adult book, End of Days, and a YA book pared down for younger readers, "The President Has Been Shot." I listened to the audiobook of that latter book and found it to be very interesting and illuminating.

So it shouldn't surprise anyone that I picked up what I am calling the third book in the assassination series for YA readers this week, Chasing King's Killer. The timing couldn't have been better with the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. King's assassination this past week and there were lots of news events commemorating the horrific and fateful event.

At first I was pretty critical of the book. Swanson seemed to be summing up the whole Civil Rights Movement at break-neck speed. Events like the March on Selma and the Montgomery Bus Boycott were mentioned in short paragraphs or less. I kept thinking that someone who knew little to nothing about the movement wouldn't know much more after reading the book. Then on page 78 of 373, the shift occurred, now the text started to focus more on James Earl Ray, MLK's assassin, and what he was up for the days, weeks, months prior to that fateful day, April 4, 1968. Suddenly the book read like a murder mystery. Come to think of it, it was a murder mystery only with real people. Swanson outlined all the details that brought the two men together and the kinds of things that Ray did in preparation for the murder. No details were spared. A map of the two blocks where the rooming-house where Ray stayed and the Lorraine Hotel where MLK was a guest gave the reader a good idea of who the shooting could occur. Photos of Ray, from mug shots to the photo of his graduation from bartending school gave us a fuller picture of the man.

After the assassination Ray was able to escape, right under the nose of several police officers who happened to be taking a break at the fire station nearby at the time of the shooting. The manhunt, which ultimately involved half of the manpower of the FBI at the time, took two months but they found their man in London where he had gone on his way to escape to a country without extradition to the USA. The last 100+ books of the book were dedicated to the manhunt both from the FBIs point of view and what Ray was doing to elude capture. In addition information about the aftermath of the assassination in the country. The very day that his death was announced violence erupted nationwide and many cities, Washington, DC for one, experienced horrible looting and fires. People were understandably angry and upset. After years of King's call for non-violence, everything turned on a dime at his death.

For many years some people believed that Ray was part of a larger conspiracy to murder King but in Chasing King's Killer the reader is not left with that impression. Ray murdered MLK on his own and he went to his grave without telling anyone why he did it. One theory that makes sense to me, was he thought he'd be heralded as a hero by white supremacists who certainly wouldn't find him guilty, in fact they would probably funnel money his way. If true, it was a very sad and twisted motive.

Now here is the most unbelievable thing about this book---it has over 100 pages of reference materials at the end of it. There are recommended reading lists for every topic Swanson covered in the book. There are several timelines. A list and description of suggested places to visit to learn more about the movement. The book is crammed pull of photographs which bring the events to life in ways that words can't. I have been a teen librarian for years and I have never seen such an exhaustive list of resources and such a user friendly guide for more research.  It is tremendous.

I highly, highly recommend that you read this book. If you are a teen librarian, make sure your library has at least one copy of this book available for your patrons to check out and to use for their research projects.  Now I am am going to see if I can find a copy of Chasing Lincoln's Killer. I am very interested in finishing Swanson's series on Presidential/important people assassinations, though, even as I say it, I wonder if Robert Kennedy's assassination is next? I could start a rumor. Hmm.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Books and musings on slavery, civil rights, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

April 4, 2018 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It seems like an inauspicious day to commemorate but it does give us a chance to look back and reflect, to note the changes and the similarities to our current times. Oddly events in my life and the books I have decided to read in the past three months have seemed to conspire to make sure that I was ready for the day---that I personally was ripe to receive Martin Luther King, Jr.'s message anew.

Starting in late February my husband and I attended a conference at Seattle University called "Search for Meaning" where we sat in on a session with Dr. Rev. William Barber and Taylor Branch. William Barber is a fiery pastor and past president of the North Carolina NAACP. He recently launched Moral Monday events, following in the footsteps of MLK. He wants us to continue the Poor People's Campaign launched right before MLK was assassinated in 1968. Taylor Branch is a historian and author who has written a three-volume set of books about the Civil Rights Movement weighing in at over 2000 pages in length. I purchased and he signed his summary book, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement, which is only 190 pages long. By the end of the session my head was swirling with new facts and a flame was rekindled inside me to do more to fight injustice in our country and world.

The novel I was reading at the time was Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Though a fictional book it started from a historical kernel of truth---when Abraham Lincoln's son Willie died of typhoid fever, the President visited the crypt at least twice held his son's dead body. The novel brilliantly goes back and forth from actual historical documents written at the time of Willie's death, and a surreal, fictional account of what the ghosts, all stuck in the cemetery for a variety of reasons, do and say to try to help Willie to move on. Though not directly related to slavery or civil rights, the book does show how Willie's death and Lincoln's agony helped the President develop his empathy and compassion toward any grieving parent, black or white, and crystallized his decision to free all slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation.

Several books later I picked up a middle grade/picture book, Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney.
In a rich embroidery of visions, musical cadence, and deep emotion, Andrea and Brian Pinkney convey the final months of Martin Luther King's life -- and of his assassination -- through metaphor, spirituality, and multilayers of meaning. Andrea's stunning poetic requiem, illustrated with Brian's lyrical and colorful artwork, brings a fresh perspective to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life.  And even in his death, he continues to transform and inspire all of us who share his dream.
I was tremendously moved by the poems and the illustrations. I also realized, as I read them, that I knew very little about the last few months of King's life and the circumstances surrounding his death. I was just eleven when he was killed and my family didn't live in the United States at the time, so I didn't see any news coverage of the events. Later, in high school, I opted to take a government rather than a US history class, because of this I have a lot of holes in my own knowledge of US History, including the Civil Rights Movement. Reading this book---about the Sanitation Worker's strike, about King's final speech, about his assassination, about his wife's decision to march in his stead---inspired me to learn more.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. For me it came in the form of the Classic Club Spin event. Participants list twenty classic books, when the number was spun, I looked at my list and saw that it landed on Kindred by Octavia Butler. Butler, known mostly as a Sci-Fi writer, penned Kindred in 1979. The main character, Dana, a black woman married to a white man, time-travels back to 1820s Maryland, where she meets her ancestors---a black slave woman and a white slave-owner man, Rufus Weylin. Over and over she is "called upon" to save Rufus' life and has to time-travel to do it. The problem, of course, is she is black and Maryland is a slave state. Every time she travels back in time, Dana is trapped, for up to several months, as a slave herself. She learns first hand how easy it is to entrap another person and why people submitted to slavery. The book was very disturbing yet also enlightening about the "peculiar institution" of slavery and how the foundations of our country were built on it, a fact we cannot deny, but one we must strive to correct and make amends where we can.  I highly recommend the book.

In addition to participating in the Classics Club spin event, each year my husband and I participate in Pierce Reads! which is a county-wide reading activity every spring. This year the book(s) is the 3-volume graphic biography of/by John Lewis, March I, II, III. Lewis, in case you don't know, is a current member of the US Congress. But before that he served with MLK in many capacities of the Civil Rights Movement and was nearly killed by a beating from a police officer during the March on Selma. He is a true American hero. Last night, as a matter of fact, I heard a portion of a discussion he and Obama had yesterday during a forum with high school students:
“Being on the right side of history isn’t always popular. And it isn’t always easy,” Obama said to Lewis. “You don’t know when things are going to break your way. You don’t know whether your labors will deliver.”
“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something, to say something. Dr. King inspired us to do just that,” Lewis replied.
I am very inspired by Lewis and having read the three part graphic novels at an earlier date, I can recommend them without any hesitations. Lewis found his way to the Civil Rights Movement through a comic book about Martin Luther King, Jr. He decided that he wanted his biography to be in that same format. My husband has just finished March and took book two with him to work today hoping he has time to finish it during lunch time. The title is so perfect since so many of the big events in the Civil Rights Movement involved marching. Martin Luther King said that marching for civil rights was like praying with his feet.

My husband and I decided to "pray with our feet" also, and we marched a few weeks ago in support of the Parkland students' efforts to draw attention to our country's gun problems. During The March for Our Lives my husband and I had time to reflect on how the current guns laws are especially dangerous for people of color in our country. It seems like police are much more likely to shoot first and ask questions later because of a fear of what high-powered weapon might be leveled at them. Sensible gun laws and banning the high-powered assault rifles would make everyone safer, in my opinion, and could have a positive effect in black communities. We need to do whatever we can to protect everyone's civil rights!

A few weeks ago a blogging friend posted a list of YA books published in 2018 which have several starred reviews and have already received critical acclaim.. Martin Rising was on that list as well as two others which piqued my interest: Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Tonya Bolden and Chasing King's Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Killer by James L. Swanson. I added both to my reading list and was surprised at how fast the library had them ready for me to pick up. I started the Douglass book first, for a purely silly reason---it was shorter---but read it with relish. Douglass was a true American hero who decried the twin monsters of darkness---slavery and racism---his whole life. The man was tireless. Once slavery was abolished, he moved on to supporting efforts to secure the vote for African-Americans (men), he supported other worthy causes, too, like women's suffrage, and equal pay for blacks and whites in the same job. In a lot of ways Frederick Douglass was the MLK of the nineteenth century, rallying people to support worthy causes mainly through his speeches and his many publications. The book is very readable and its target audience is young teens.

Chasing King's Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Killer by James L. Swanson, marked with a big J for Junior by my library, did seem to be written for a younger audience. I couldn't believe it when Swanson wrapped up the while Civil Rights Movement in less than 100 pages of the 300 page book, dedicating mere sentences to important events like the March on Selma and the Freedom Riders. But then I readjusted my estimation of the book when Swanson dedicated the next 200 pages to a detailed account of King's assassination, the movements of James Earl Raye days and weeks before the event, and the efforts of the FBI for the two months it took to find him after he escaped from the scene the day of the killing. The book was fascinating. FASCINATING. Full of photographs, maps, and details I have not seen or heard of before about King's final days and the aftermath of his death. Just as I am starting to read excerpts of King's final speech made in Memphis to an assembled crowd of two thousand people, I look up to see the TV news showing footage of the actual event caught on film fifty years ago. Tears sprung to my eyes. It was as if I was living it for the first time. The reading of this book coinciding with the anniversary of King's assassination couldn't have better timed if I had planned it. Written for younger teens I was able to race through the book and consume it in one day. It is also a treasure trove of resources with over 100 pages of references, recommended reading list, time lines, etc.

Crammed in between reading all these inspiring books about American heroes (Lincoln, Douglass, King), the effects of slavery, and the civil rights movement I started an audiobook of Sing, Unburied
Sing about an impoverished black family living in Mississippi in current times. Drugs, racism, poverty, and death plague the family and the effects are seen most clearly on the children. Though, not specifically about the themes of slavery or civil rights, one can clearly see the impact that our history of slavery is continuing to have on everyone in our society, but more specifically on black folks today. I had to stop listening at the one-third mark of the book and hope to return to it in a few weeks. My reading selections were starting to add together with the news I was hearing out of Washington, DC about the actions and words of our seemingly very racist president.and were affecting my moods in a negative way. How can we combat racism if the man at the top perpetuates old myths and stirs up hatred? It is hard not to get discouraged. Yet, I have to remind myself that I can heart from the example given to us by Dr. King, Frederick Douglass, and so many others.

As I started preparations to write this blog post, my mind still swirling with everything I have heard, read, and done in the past few months, I realized that I still wanted more information. I marched over to the book shelf and found The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement, where I had placed it, unopened, when we got home from "The Search for Meaning" conference in February. I opened to the introduction and started reading...
"Newer generations will find here the gist of a patriotic struggle in which the  civil rights pioneers, like modern Founders, moved an inherited world of hierarchy and subjugation toward common citizenship Others can recall vivid triumph and tragedy at the heart of national purpose for the United States, whose enduring story is freedom. The unvarnished history should resist fearful tides to diminish that story. Above all, the King years should serve as a bracing reminder that citizens and leaders can work miracles together despite hardship, against great odds" (Branch 3).
Just in case you missed it, or want to see if again. Here is the last speech made my Martin Luther King, Jr., the day before he was killed. Many say this was his very best. He gives everything of himself, almost like he pours out every drop of himself, so that after he finishes he collapses into the arms of his friend Ralph Abernathy, completely spent.

I didn't set out in 2018 with a goal to do themed reading on slavery, civil rights, and Martin Luther King, Jr. All of these books just seemed to find their way to me and asked to be considered together as a whole. I am not done searching for meaning and understanding. My hope is that this post will help guide you to do the same.

My reading list:

Bolden, Tonya. Facing Frederick: the Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2018.
Branch, Taylor. The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. Simon & Schuster, 2013.
Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. Beacon Press, 2003.
Lewis, John, et al. March: Book Three. Top Shelf Productions, 2016.
Lewis, John, et al. March: Book Two. Top Shelf Productions, 2014.
Lewis, John, et al. March. Top Shelf Productions, 2013.
Pinkney, Andrea Davis, and J. Brian Pinkney. Martin Rising: Requiem for a King. Scholastic Press, an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2018.
Saunders, George. Lincoln in the Bardo: a Novel. Random House, 2017.
Swanson, James L. Chasing King's Killer: the Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Assassin. Scholastic Press, 2018.
Ward, Jesmyn. Sing, Unburied, Sing. Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Friday Quotes: Chasing King's Killer

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: Chasing King's Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King Jr.'s Assassin by James L. Swanson

Book Beginning:
"In the fall of 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a twenty-nine-year-old minister in Montgomery, Alabama, who had recently risen to national prominence as a civil rights activist, traveled to New York City to promote his first book. He almost didn't make it out of town alive."
Friday 56:
"King's relationship with JFK had been complicated and sometimes difficult. Kennedy had been a reluctant civil rights warrior. Yes, he had given speeches and hosted civil rights leaders at the White House. But he was distant. His brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had worried that embracing King too eagerly might hurt Kennedy's chances for reelection in 1964...In Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr. had found, at last, his greatest political partner."
Comments: I read this book incredibly fast. It was very timely to read it this week, the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Austen Project: Modern retellings of Jane Austen's classic books

Several years ago HarperCollins embarked on a project to publish modern retellings of Jane Austen's six classic novels. They named several of the authors that would be attempting the near impossible task---improving on Austen's original works---and they named it "The Austen Project." And so, with a bit of fanfare, "The Austen Project" was born when Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, the first of the retellings, hit the book stores in 2013. Followed by Northanger Abbey (2014) by Val McDermid,  Emma (2015) by Alexander McCall Smith, and Eligible (Pride and Prejudice) (2016) by Curtis Sittenfeld. Last year should have been the year of Mansfield Park and either HarperCollins has abandoned the project or publication is delayed because I can't find anything about it anywhere.

Actually I had a hard time finding anything about "The Austen Project" on the Internet, which is surprising, since one can generally find just about anything on it if they dig deep enough. HarperCollins does not have a webpage dedicated to the project, though one can find a blog entry on their site which talks about the Eligible, the most recent and probably most popular of the four. I found a Facebook page dedicated to the project, but the last entry was posted in March 2016, when the UK and US book covers for Eligible were being revealed. There wasn't even an entry the day the book was published. Not a good sign.

The only other people who are talking about "The Austen Project" are bloggers like myself. Though I find their opinions interesting, I really haven't found them to be totally enlightening, especially about the conclusion of the project. Most aren't big fans of the four books which were published and use words like "fiasco" and "challenge" to describe the project. One blogger said that instead of "modern retellings", the books should be called what they are, "fan fiction." Ouch. I'm pretty sure that is NOT what the publisher had in mind when they launched the project over six years ago.

I have recently read two of the books, Eligible and Emma, both were fine but neither got anywhere near the original. Of course they didn't!

Eligible is set in Cincinnati. Lizzie and Jane return home from New York where they live, to tend their father who is recovering from a heart attack. Mrs. Bennet is busy organizing a gala of some sort and the other sisters can't be bothered to help. Mary because she is taking classes for another degree in Psychology, Lydia and Kitty because they are so busy with their CrossFit workouts. Lizzie works as a writer for a magazine and Jane is a yoga instructor. None of the sisters are married. But when Jane meets Chip Bingley, a recent contestant on "Eligible", similar to "The Bachelor" show, she is smitten. Through Chip, Lizzie meets Fitzwilliam Darcy, a neurosurgeon. Lydia is dating a guy who owns the gym where she works out. Mrs. Bennet has a shopping addiction and is worried about appearances at the country club more than her husband's health or about the family finances. Sound familiar? The bones of the original were certainly present in Eligible. Except in this retelling of Pride and Prejudice, the women have jobs, have sex, use foul language, deal with modern problems like infertility, loving a transgender person, and downsizing. I found the book silly and funny, in turn. It was frustrating and fun, maddening and satisfying. It ended how I expected it to (having read the original) but it took lots of unexpected turns to get there. P & P was largely a parody of its time and so is Eligible a parody of our time. On that score it was very successful. It was just a little too ridiculous for me and I rated it 3.5 out of 5 stars. One thing I did learn, the author, Curtis Sittenfeld, is female. I was faked out by the first name which I mistook to be a male name.

Reviewers have been harsher on Emma, the modern retelling by Alexander McCall Smith, than they are on Curtis Sittenfeld's retelling of P & P. The general displeasure seemed to revolve around the great degree of backstory that McCall Smith gave to each character. I honestly appreciated that aspect a lot. Knowing a character's backstory allows the reader to appreciate their actions in the present time. I especially appreciated Mr. Woodhouse's backstory. Without it, in the original, one has to wonder why he is such a worrywart.

Reading through through the reviews I wondered if these readers had ever read anything else by McCall Smith. His comedic timing is very present in Emma as well as his use of funny catch-phrases, which generally kept me in stitches as I read. I think that Austen's Emma is meant to be a comedy, so McCall Smith captured the essence of the original on that score perfectly. Other reviews complained that he didn't "get" Emma, the character. I disagree. I think he got her perfectly. Emma was a snob in the original and a snob in his retelling. Perhaps what they were saying was they didn't really like McCall Smith's Emma. I didn't either. But wasn't that the point of the original? Emma was a meddling busy-body who was not self-aware at all. She had no idea how her actions were hurting those people she thought to "help." McCall Smith gave us an impossibly self-absorbed Emma. It took several hundred pages of text and help from Mr. Knightley for her to gain some self-awareness. The one criticism which the reviewers leveled against this version which I would agree with was how the unfolding relationship between Emma and Mr. Knightley seemed to come out of nowhere. Not enough attention was given to the time they spent together for the reader to recognize what was happening, even though Emma herself was blind to it. I generally enjoyed the book and rated it 4 out of 5 stars. I'd be more likely to recommend it to McCall Smith fans than to Emma fans, though.

And what about "The Austen Project"? I am guessing that it has been abandoned, but since I know that Persuasion, a personal favorite, would be the last of the six, I am clearly hoping I am wrong. One other reason I think the project is done is when I visited Amazon.com to see if they had anything about the 5th book, no books showed up when I typed in "The Austen Project." And when I went to the Eligible page it didn't make suggestions to read the other three books in the series. At any rate, I want to read Northanger Abbey: a modern retelling since it generally gets good reviews, but may skip Sense and Sensibility for the opposite reason. I honestly wonder if the project stalled out because Mansfield Park was just too hard to retell in modern times.  I can't imagine how anyone could do it. A young girl sent to live with relatives, who treat her badly. But she falls in love with her cousin. Eventually everyone rejoices in that union. Hmm. Not sure how that will work in terms of all the genetic issues it brings up. Ha!

If anyone knows anything about the future of "The Austen Project", please leave me a note in the comments. I am eager for news!