Book Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves

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There’s a good chance you’ve seen a picture from the desegration of schools half a century ago — hateful crowds, sneers on their pale faces, swarming around a child, carrying books, walking up to a school building.  But far fewer have actually crossed the threshold and envisioned what happens in the school building, day after day, in the same way that Robin Talley gives us in Lies We Tell Ourselves.

Find Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley near you.

Sarah Dunbar is in the first group of black students to attend Jefferson High School, a previously white-only institution.  Despite months of preparation, the daily taunts, leers, spitballs, threats, and hatred she faces from her peers begin to wear on her before long.  When she is forced to do a French project with white classmate Linda Hairston, the daughter of a vocal opponent of school integration, her school life leaves the school day and Sarah has no choice but to face the hatred she’s surrounded by and the danger she’s in.

Told from both Sarah and Linda’s perspective,Talley’s work is well researched and a story that many audiences may not have heard before, which makes it refreshing.  Talley herself, while white, works in social justice and is able to both craft a story in Lies We Tell Ourselves and insert relevant social commentary about race, then and now.

The thing that nobody has told you about this book that isn’t readily apparent in the book’s promotional materials and on the cover is that the Sarah and Linda begin to develop feelings for each other.  While the addition of a romantic plotline is almost too much for an already very full book, the book does raise questions about differences we discriminate upon that can be seen vs. those we can hide.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is full of hard-hitting issues relevant to today’s youth and adults.  It is well-timed, both with regards to issues of race and issues of sexual orientation.  The delivery, in alternating perspectives with each chapter given a lie that one of the girls is telling themselves, is effective and compelling.  It would be a lie to say that Talley’s work is not worth the read.

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(Audio)Book Review: Dead Wake

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In his most recent contribution to the popular nonfiction work, Erik Larson presents the story of the Lusitania, those on it, and those who sunk it.

Find the audio of Dead Wake by Erik Larson near you.

Scott Brick, well-established in the audiobook world with nearly 400 titles to his name, reads Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.  Brick’s reading is skilled and well-paced, straightforward and unembellished, professional and clear.  It is in the vein of audiobooks that come across clearly as a reading, without any illusion to additional dramatic effects.  As a reading, though, it is very well done.

Larson tells the story of the Lusitania in multiple perspectives, alternating between those on the ship, those in Washington, and those on the u-boat that would sink the cruiser.  Because the work jumps from perspective to perspective and encompasses an extensive cast of characters and Brick delivers an oratorical performance, a listener will need to pay close attention to follow along.  At the same time, Larson has not included any pictures or other documents in his work, so the audiobook listener will not miss out on any additional media, which can often be the case in popular nonfiction.

Dead Wake departs from Larson’s earlier works in that the basic overall story line is one that many listeners will find themselves somewhat familiar with at the onset.  The work recalls his great reputation in what many consider to be “novel-like” nonfiction in that once again, the devil is in the details, and Larson offers a perspective you may not have seen before, especially with his inclusion of accounts from the German submarine.  Brick’s reading is accurate and polished, delivering Larson’s latest admirably.

If you would like a preview of Brick’s reading of Dead Wake, Audiobooks.com offers one on youtube.

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

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In some ways, Kell has no city.  In some ways, he has one, Red London, where he’s from.  And in some ways, he has four: Red London, White London, Grey London, and Black London.

Find A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab near you.

In V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, we meet Kell.  Kell is the ambassador of the royal family of Red London, which means he spends his days traveling between worlds to visit the other Londons: White, Grey, and Black.  Or just White and Grey, since Black London is no longer spoken of.  Grey is dreary and has no magic.  Red feels, well, red — happy and flourishing and under control.  White is an endless battle for power, where rulers take the throne for only as long as they can hold it.

Under the surface, Kell also smuggles artifacts from one London to the next for collectors.  This is how he meets pickpocket Delilah Bard, who robs him and unknowingly saves his life,

Full of quirky characters and intriguing mysteries, the world — or rather, worlds — Schwab paints drive the plot just as much as the action of the story does.  Not all of the characters are likeable and not all of the characters are revealing everything, but you’ll want to know if Kell survives just as much as you’ll want to know exactly what it means that one of his eyes is black.  Schwab is in it for the long game, but still delivers in the meantime with a quick read that plows to the end and through your imagination.

Readers be warned: despite the race to the end, the book wraps up quickly, with just enough loose ends tied up so that there’s easily room for a sequel — which will be coming in Winter 2016 according to the author’s website.

Book Review: Vacationland

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Delivered in hauntingly vivid prose, Sarah Stonich’s Vacationland is woven from elegantly intertwined stories that offer snapshots of character’s lives.

Find Vacationland by Sarah Stonich near you.

Each story can stand alone, but together, each story is a brushstroke is the larger painting of the the North woodland resort, Naledi Lodge.  As the stories come from a variety of perspectives across many years, it is the overarching setting that compels the larger work.

Central to the story of Naledi is the resort’s owner at present day, Meg, and the owner before her — the immigrant grandfather that raised her and built and maintained the resort for decades.  Through the eyes of resort visitors, biological family and chosen family, and local residents, the reader checks in periodically with Meg from childhood through mid-adulthood.

Meg’s life work and calling is in visual art and Stonich’s language mirrors in that both deliver stunning imagery and pull in the observer, evoking emotion.  Stories range from quiet recollections and reflections to stream-of-consciousness-esque accounts of life-altering events.  The story, in particular, of Meg’s parents’ plane crash rings out as unique in a collection that mostly hums with more typical ups and downs of human life in the upper Midwest.  Readers looking for action may find themselves bored, but readers looking to sit back and journey to a Northern Minnesota resort and peek in on the people that also find themselves there will enjoy delving in to Vacationland.

Reading Good with Goodreads

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Reflectin’ time!

So let’s talk about Goodreads.  Before this class, I was adamant about not getting on Goodreads.  This was partly because I had tried it very, very early on (early 2007) and was less than impressed.  I didn’t want to simplify what I thought about a book down to a handful of stars, and I didn’t want to take time to explain my stars.  There wasn’t a good way to track my re-reading, and my friends weren’t on it.  In fact, relatively few people were on it — I was actually in the top 1,000 most read people on Goodreads for a brief time before I quit and vowed never to return.

Fastforward to this summer, when I joined for this class.  My initial reactions looked something like this:

  • Oh cool they fixed a lot of the early problems.
  • Um, guys, you still really haven’t addressed this whole re-reading issue sufficiently.
  • I can totally connect with my friends.
  • Should I be worried that Amazon owns this site?

That’s all personal stuff, before I used it much for this class.  I’m still iffy about whether or not I personally want to use it.  And I’ve concluded that the scariest part of Goodreads being owned by Amazon is that it’s much more difficult than average to do a standard search about Goodreads as basically everything pulls up book entries from the site itself.  So they hold a lot of power and it’s difficult to talk about them.  That part seems sketchy.  (Sidenote: how much cooler would it have been if WorldCat had bought out Goodreads and it integrated with the libraries of the world instead of the online shopping giant?  Super awesome, right?!  Can we go back in time and change that?)

In terms of finding stuff and finding stuff out though, I have found it to be a super awesome resource.  Given my early experience with the site (which, admittedly, is not 100% fair), I have been really pleasantly surprised.  I would even go so far as to say that Goodreads is probably one of the best examples of social taxonomy and massive data mining out there.

And that’s really its strongest asset: Goodreads will give you mass public opinion and make it really easy to find.  And in RA, while yes, we want to talk to the individual user and meet their needs, you just can’t dismiss popular opinion.  Popular opinion is really what it all comes down to — it drives what gets written, who gets published, what folks read, and how we sort what we’ve read.  All of the categorization in RA is determined by popular opinion — there is no RA Overseeing Committee that decides the precise rules for what fits in each box.

Goodreads is the only source out there connecting and ranking books by popular opinion on such a massive scale.  And as such, it can’t be dismissed.

Book Review: The Troop

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EAT EAT EAT EAT

Find The Troop by Nick Cutter near you.

So starts Nick Cutter’s The Troop.  Aptly labelled as “a novel of terror,” The Troop is the story of five boys and their scoutmaster on an island who are joined by a mysterious man and the disease he’s carrying.  Through Cutter’s vivid prose, we see that the mysterious man is disturbingly ill, with his “flesh falling off its bones in gray, lace-edged rags,” his face “the lumpen, withery, rotted black of a banana forgotten at the bottom of a fruit bowl” that your fingers sink into, and his smell a “syrupy foulness like the juice at the bottom of an amusement park trash can.”  Before long, the reader learns that he’s an escaped test subject for a biological weapon – a super tapeworm, if you will. But the campers, while suspecting something’s terribly wrong, are ultimately oblivious – and infected. One by one, they begin getting sick… and dying. Terror alone feeds them, except for one of the campers, who has developed a taste for torturing animals and revels in the havoc amongst the group. Quarantined to the island by military surveillance, the reader will be flipping pages to find out if anybody survives the weekend.

Combining elements of science fiction and psychological thrillers, Cutter has crafted a story that will make you cringe, question humanity, and never want eat again as you race towards the end.  The story is based in the plausible and Cutter does an excellent job painting both the larger situation and the small, queasy details — this is not a book for the easily grossed out!  The format is largely narrative, with occasional artifact-esque interruptions, calling to mind Stephen King’s classic, Carrie.  Like the master he channeling, Cutter’s haunting story will draw you in and keep you there, hungry, until the last chapter.

As this is my genre book, here are my book group discussion questions:

  • Is this situation plausible to you?  What parts seemed the most and least realistic?  How did realism (or lack thereof) contribute to the book’s “creepy factor”?
  • How did the format of the book — mostly narrative with intertwined artifacts — lend to the story?  Was it effective?  Do you have alternative suggestions for formatting?
  • One of the quotes at the beginning of the book is from The Lord of the Flies.  How is and isn’t The Troop like Golding’s classic?  Is Cutter making social commentary by the differences and similarities he put into the story?
  • Should Max have survived?  If so, why?  If not, do you think it would have been more fitting to have another character survive?
  • There are no women in this book.  Do you think that helps or hurts the books larger themes?  Is it fair to draw conclusions about humanity from stories that only feature one gender?
  • What does this book say about adulthood?  Do you agree or disagree?

Passive Promotion

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For our passive readers’ advisory assignment, I designed a flyer around the idea of a mini book advertising a big book (or multiple).  The basic draw here is that it’s a flyer with an activity, and since that activity involves making something, a freebie of sorts.

Here it is:

And here’s the process.

First I needed a theme.  It had to have enough books around it in the collection, a way to be translated to the mini book format, and an appeal to the mini book format (ie, a “pocket pet” or a “mini murder” is fun; a “pocket body of water” is harder to conceptualize and attract people to).  I landed on making “Pocket Vacations” as a means of promoting travel writing in the collection.

Once I figured out my theme, I took to the catalog, stacks, and Internet to gather my books.  Then I went on over to Canva.com and designed the top part of the flyer.  Canva is pretty fantastic — you should definitely check it out!

To avoid fighting with margins, I worked in powerpoint to assemble the flyer itself.  I used a table on the bottom of the flyer to show the form as I filled in each vacation.  Again, I used Canva for pieces I created.  For other images, I used the Creative Commons search to find what I needed.  I had already known how to make a mini book, and I borrowed somebody’s very nice instructional diagram.

The end result should be printed out with the two pages as front and back, ideally in color.