Jim Gocha - The Book Whisperer
Jim is a self-professed word nerd, who has been in love with books since childhood. He fondly remembers wearing the text off early favorites Fox in Socks, Caps for Sale, and Henry and Ribsy. Jim started working in bookstores while attending college in the early ‘80s. His tenure at Gibson’s began the year he moved to New Hampshire from New York - 1987. Currently he teaches English Language Arts at Rundlett Middle School, his twenty-fifth year there, and continues as a literary minion at Gibson’s, which he considers a well of sanity in an otherwise chaotic world. At the moment he enjoys the works of authors John Irving, Jasper Fforde, Nevada Barr, Peter Ackroyd, Christopher Paul Curtis, Laurie Hulse Anderson, David Almond, David McCullough - aw, heck, anyone who has a good story to tell.
Jim writes so many reviews that we've had to give him a second page! You can read his older reviews (up through February 2015) here.
Jim's June 2015 pick, 1 of 2
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson's book is a memoir of her early life, the years that led her to become a writer. In poetic word pictures, she has captured the joys, fears and confusion of her childhood. Her education, both in and out of school, is one particular point of frustration, as she and her siblings receive trainings about where they can and cannot go, and her teacher insists that Jacqueline read faster and less babyish. But for young Jacqueline, a burgeoning lover of words, she cannot understand why must rush through a text. A girl after my own heart. I am glad she savored each word she encountered; it shows in the novels that became her life's work.
Woodson is roughly my age, which made many of her pop culture and historical references resonate for me more profoundly than they might for others. It is interesting to read of her admiration of Angela Davis ("She is beautiful and powerful and has/my same gap-toothed smile."), when White authority saw Ms. Davis as a criminal. Throughout Brown Girl Dreaming, Ms. Woodson shows that, even in her youth, she was not afraid to stand up for what she believed in. If you like her young adult novels or even if you are new to this author, you will thoroughly enjoy Brown Girl Dreaming.
Jim's June 2015 pick, 2 of 2
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives, by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch
Caitlin is a seventh grader in a small Pennsylvania town when she becomes a penpal with Martin, a Zimbabwean student. Instead of losing interest after a few letters, as is the case with many penpals, their relationship flourishes. Throughout the early chapters of this book, I was amused at Martin's resourcefulness and bothered by Caitlin's whining. She, after all, came from a comfortably upper middle-class family, while Martin's family struggled to make ends meet in a country suffering from increasing economic woes. One of the aspects of the book that I enjoyed the most is how Martin inadvertently illustrates how Americans put so much emphasis on having excessive amounts of stuff, more than any one individual needs. He comes from a background of barely being able to get common necessities, like writing paper and shoes. She comes from a family wherein each member gets a car when they are of driving age. When Caitlin takes Martin clothes shopping for the first time, he comments, "I had never witnessed such excess, not even at Marist Brothers" (a private school Martin attended). "Eventually I just went along with it, like I was in a dream."
All that aside, this book is a testament to the power of letter writing and the strong bonds that can be forged between people despite the distance and circumstances that separate them. Interesting and memorable.
Jim's May 2015 pick, 1 of 2
X, A Novel, by Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X. With Kekla Magoon
Malcolm X lives! Well, at least in these pages. Ms. Shabazz brings her father's story to vivid life in this retelling of his story. Told in the first person, the book has an urgency to it that makes it an exciting read.
Shabbazz doesn't give a complete narrative of Malcolm X, focusing instead on the most formative years of his life; his father dies when Malcolm was 6 and soon after his family disintegrated, which started a bitter fire of hate deep inside him. The book ends in 1948 with Malcolm in jail for foolish and sometimes dangerous acts but enlightened to the ways of Islam. It is with his acceptance of a higher purpose, that Malcolm is able to overcome his anger at his father, whose words he saw as lies since despite his interest in becoming more, White society repeatedly offered him less.
To help the reader understand a fuller picture of her father, she includes additional passages in the end: a timeline, family tree, and a section on historical context.
This is a good starting point for anyone interested in one of the most provocative civil rights leaders in our country's history.
Jim's May 2015 pick, 2 of 2
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
I approached this book with a little skepticism. I am drawn to stories about WW 2, but this one is written by an author mostly known for sappy, touchy-feely novels. I wasn't sure what to expect. What I found is a stirring tale of friends and family affected by war.
The old saw that war is hell is an understatement in light of what happens to the citizens of the French village of Carriveau after the Nazis invade. The reader sees everything unfold through the lives of the two Mauriac sisters, Vianne and Isabelle. Vianne's husband leaves to fight and her daughter Sophie's childhood comes to an abrupt halt as she witnesses the increasing terror that envelops Carriveau. Isabelle, young and impetuous, leaves, too, to aid in the underground resistance, unable to sit idly by as her world crumbles around her. Both women find themselves doing things never thought possible just months before the invasion, but that's what war does, strips innocence and purity to shreds in an effort to just stay alive.
Hannah does throw an occasional maudlin line or two into the mix, but for the most part, her writing is straightforward. She tends not to dwell on violent scenes, adding just enough to give the reader the idea of the horror unfolding, like a Hitchcock film. There have been many stories written about WW2 and I am sure there will be more to come. For now, enjoy The Nightingale.
Jim's March 2015 picks, 1 of 2
Revolution, by Deborah Wiles
Oh, the times, they are a changin'. Wiles' previous documentary novel, Countdown, introduced the world to Franny Chapman, a fifth grader with a lot to deal with, including the dreamy neighborhood boy and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Here, Wiles takes us two years ahead to Freedom Summer. Franny's older sister has gone down to Mississippi to help register people to vote. Jo Ellen is the only character carried over from the previous novel but the same sense of historical turbulence and urgency is on every page. The focus here is on Sunny, a teenager with a myriad of problems: a mixed family, the loss of her mother, the invasion of Northerners bent on turning the Southern way of life upside-down, increasing racial tension, and the mysterious identity of Hightop, the nickname Sunny and her stepbrother Gillette gave to a colored boy they accidentally had met in the town's swimming pool late one night. If you are a fan of history, the 1960s, Civil Rights, or a good read, you will enjoy Revolution immensely.