Jim has worked in bookstores since 1983 and at Gibson's, off and on, since 1987. He enjoys a good story more than anything else but is drawn to Young Adult fiction because of his day job as a middle school teacher. "Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book." --Author Unknown. Needless to say, I have lived many lives and there are countless more to come.
You can read Jim's 2016-2018 archived staff reviews here: https://www.gibsonsbookstore.com/jim-2016-2018
Jim's July 2020 pick
I am extremely happy to recommend to you The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The title alone was enough to whet my curiosity, and I hope that it draws you in, too. Then I saw the film adaptation on Netflix. Usually, I read then watch, as that is the natural order; however, I impulsively started the film one day and was hooked. I knew before it was over that I must read the book. The adage about a book being better than the film remains true - the movie is good; the book is magical.
The story takes place in England the year after WWII ended and focuses on Juliet Ashton, a relatively new writer looking for a topic for her next book. An unexpected letter from a man on the Isle of Guernsey seeking a biography of Charles Lamb gets the action rolling. What follows is charming, funny, tragic, and joyful, to put it mildly. Juliet soon finds herself on a journey to the eponymous Channel Island where her life changes forever.
As I read, the cast of characters swept me up and took me away from all COVID woes. As is a mark of a good book, I now consider these people my friends, Dawsey Adams, Mrs. Maugery, Isola Pribby, Eben Ramsey, and the other members of the Society. It is a literary group, mind you, so as well as being a fantastic tale of recovery from war and German occupation (yes, the Germans actually occupied the island for five years - amazing!), it is also about the power of books and reading. As soon as you put this review down, grab a copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. You will not regret it.
Jim's June 2020 pick, 1 of 3
Wiles has previously tackled the 1960s in her books Countdown, Revolution, and Anthem, all of which are fantastic and worth your time. I wondered what her follow-up would be and did not have to wait long.
Kent State is about the four days that led to the murder of four college students and the wounding of nine others during an antiwar protest on the campus of Kent State University. Rather than unravel the complexities of those days in a straight prose story like her other books, Wiles lets the people who were there speak for themselves in stark dialog, almost like free verse poetry. There are the student protestors, both black and white, there are the townies, and the National Guard. Each has a turn to tell their side of the events. Each has a separate font and placement on the page.
A particularly effective bit here is that Wiles invites the reader into the book as a participant. As the characters reveal why they are gathered, the reader is welcomed to listen and decide for himself what actually took place.
All of this creates a very theatrical presentation. I can easily see this being performed as a play.
In the end, Wiles connects the actions from fifty years ago to the events of today. A masterful stroke. Kent State is a quick read, partly due to its brevity but also because the details of those four days in May 1970 draw you in so completely. I could not put this down. You won't either.
Jim's June 2020 pick, 2 of 3
This is a great book to read now, during the summer, when farm stands are teeming with fresh veggies recently plucked from the ground. Why, you might ask? In time, my friend. Some things cannot be rushed.
Buford is a writer who likes food and likes to write about it (see his previously published book Heat). This leads him to Lyon, France where he wants to learn how to cook like a French chef. Acclimating to his new home, with his wife and twin three-year-old sons, is not easy. A new language to learn and new pace and cultural norms to adapt to - not to mention finding a chef who would take him seriously and allow Buford into his kitchen. In France, especially, every aspect of food is taken seriously. There is a process to adhere to, a rigeur, and here comes this big, older American trying to push his way around traditions honed over centuries. Sacre bleu!
Needless to say, Buford does find a place to learn and realizes very quickly that everything he thought he knew about cooking is hardly adequate for his new situation.
Buford does a terrific job of expressing his confusion and, at times, frustration dealing with his new surroundings. Over time he comes to appreciate the fussiness of his fellow townspeople and coworkers. He finds that here is a method to their apparent madness. Or is he the madman?
Ultimately, Buford learns that a place is defined by its food and its food is defined by the literal land that it comes from, which leads me back to my opening statement. Read the book now, in the summer, then go out to your local farm stand to pick up some fruits de la terre du New Hampshire. You will not be disappointed.
Jim's June 2020 pick, 3 of 3
I have long considered Charles Dickens to be my favorite dead author. Since entering COVID-19 lockdown, and finding that I had plenty of time on my hands, I decided to read one of Dickens' novels that I have been intending to tackle for quite some time. Hence, this review.
In short, I loved this book and was very sorry that it did not go on longer. The story of Nicholas, his sister, Kate, and their mother is full of twists and turns, as they make their way from the English countryside to bustling London after the death of Mr. Nickleby, the patriarch of the family. Dickens regularly used his books to shed a light on the social issues of the times. He does so powerfully here. The book deals with, among other things, the wretched conditions of Yorkshire schools and the societal expectations of young women, the helplessness of younger women versus the power older women have because of years of worldly knowledge and influence over men. That aspect of the novel is fascinating considering that the book was published in 1838.
If you have a little time on your hands, this is a wonderful story to take you to a different time and place, written in a language that is rich in detail, so much like our own yet so different.
Jim's March 2020 pick, 1 of 3
Many people will want to write this book off as left-wing hyperbole, but this is nothing short of an indictment of the American way of life.
I was awakened to the sham that is America when I read the book American Dialogue by Joseph Ellis, a noted scholar of the founding fathers. He pointed out that our early leaders knew that capitalism would never tolerate equality among its citizens. Kristof and WuDunn further illuminate the inequities faced by the average American. They do this initially by revisiting their hometown of Yamhill, Oregon and exploring the lives of childhood friends, all from the same family, many of whom are now dead.
This book tore at my heart repeatedly with stories of how too many lives are cut short due to the inadequacies of our health and justice systems. The research is extensive. The implications are daunting. The consequences are crippling. If I could, I would send a copy of it to every person running for public office, so that they could have a better idea of what most Americans are up against. Give yourself some time to read this as you will not want to put it down.
Jim's March 2020 pick, 2 of 3
The authors contend that this is not a history book, but this "not a history book" sure as heckfire contains a lot of history. In fact, this is a history book with attitude. The authors look at where racism came from in our country of all-men-being-created-equal fame. In case you have missed the headlines, that's a lie and always has been. Reynolds and Kendi point it out in detail.
I would categorize Stamped as a hip-hop history book, with regular reflections offered by the authors about the facts they lay down. I was often reminded of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee as I read. Reynolds and Kendi explain racism from a Black person's perspective, much like Wounded Knee is American history from a Native American viewpoint. The victors don't get to write this version of how it went down.
This is a highly engaging history/not history book, and although it is written for young adults, older folks will like it as well. A fast, fascinating look at how America came to be comfortable with its racism while at the same time professing to be post-racist. I mean, we've had a Black President, haven't we? Yeah, right!
Jim's March 2020 pick, 3 of 3
I have been reading a lot of heavy duty social history lately, so I needed something to cleanse the palette; Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Mother hit the spot just right. Candid, engrossing, and at times, just plain gross, Sonnenfeld offers the reader an honest look at his life, from his childhood in Washington Heights to his days as a cinematographer then director in Hollywood to his life in tony Easthampton. Throughout, he is hilarious, especially when writing about his parents. They are a hoot and deserve a book of their own.
If you are looking for something completely different (no, not those guys), look no further than Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Mother. You will walk away tired (from laughing so much) and a bit queasy (from the pornography section - I told you that there are gross parts). But, you will also learn a lot about movie-making.
Sit back and enjoy the weirdness that is Barry Sonnenfeld.
Jim's February 2020 pick
We are used to thinking of our neighbor to the north as friendly and courteous. Canada is known for its hospitality to the point that some Americans get a little resentful about it. Rest at ease, my fellow Americans, the Canucks are just as nasty and racist as we are.
Desmond Cole, a noted Canadian journalist, chronicles a year's worth of injustices perpetrated by those red-coated Mounties against people of color, both of African and native descent. Arrest, or at least, harassment is assured if you are north of the border and LWB (living while Black).
The Skin We're In is an alarming look into the dark heart of the Canadian justice system. Cole writes with urgency about the horrific events happening around him. As a person of color, he has often been swept up in the turmoil that he writes about, adding more of a personal perspective to the atrocities. This is recommended reading for anyone upset by social injustice. A worthy addition to the growing BLM library.
Jim's January 2020 pick, 1 of 2
This is, by far, one of the best books I have read in a long time. My praise comes from its simplicity. A woman and her family move to an island in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland, where she takes a position as a nurse. Nothing complicated there, right? Yes, and no. After all, the nurse is dealing with people, and the human race is anything but predicable, except in its unpredictability. She found that out in buckets.
Macleod spins yarns of her daily comings-and-goings. Her tales are episodic, with island locals popping up here and there, as well as the odd off-islander. The mundane is mixed with the extraordinary, and in some cases, the horrific, things that I never expected in such a bucolic setting. Neither did MacLeod, which amplifies the gruesome nature of the deeds.
Take a step into a world much unlike our own. A slower pace, fewer distractions, a simpler life. The only thing that I was happy about when I finished Call the Nurse is that there is a sequel. Bon voyage, to you, my friends, on your journey to the faraway island of Papavray (made-up name to protect the locals, so don't look for it on a map). You will be charmed.
Jim's January 2020 pick, 2 of 2
If you have ever been to a Disney property, you will undoubtedly have noticed how meticulously detailed everything is. The artwork, the foliage, every last detail ornate and specific, nothing left to chance. That is not mere happenstance. Disney's Land chronicles the creation of the OG Disney park and how all that precision came about.
Disneyland opened in 1955 but its origins, the light bulb moments that led to its creation, go back to the early decades of the 20th century and the days of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The slow evolution of Disney's land is mirrored in Stone's careful construction of the book. No quick or short cuts, the author puts each piece together with a craftsman's sense of perfection. Prominent to the park is the train that circles the property. Disney's lifelong interest in trains helped to make that a reality. Disneyland is actually Disney's land in one real sense, as it is the only park, of all the global Disney properties, that the man himself had a boots-on-the-ground hand in creating.
Disney's Land is the history of a piece of American pop culture that is unequaled. Just ask anyone who has ever been there. Or anyone who has ever won a World Series or Super Bowl. They may say that they are going to Disney World, but that would not be possible without the original, Disneyland, an American treasure, lovingly chronicled in these pages.
Jim's January 2020 pick, 1 of 2
"Marley was dead, to begin with." So begins the novel that introduced Jacob Marley to the world, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Rest assured, Marley is alive and well in this novel. Clinch's book is an expansion of Dickens' story and reveals how Marley met and became the Ebenezer Scrooge's partner. Marley appears in A Christmas Carol wrapped in chains, and the cover of this novel also shows chains, but they are not the same ones. There are nefarious reasons why Marley suffers his fate, all of them quite alarming.
Clinch does a wonderful job of recreating early nineteenth century England. He comes close to mirroring Dickens' writing style, too, which is no easy feat.
If you are a fan of Dickens and A Christmas Carol, you will definitely enjoy Marley. It is not a Christmas story, so do not be put off by the association with that holiday classic. This one stands on its own. Enjoy.
Jim's January 2020 pick, 2 of 2
If you were lucky enough to have seen and/or read any of Palin's other travelogs, you will know what to expect here. From the trip's inception through to its end, the author spoons out observations about his tour of the country. Known for his cheekiness, Palin is nonetheless serious about his task of conveying the sights and sounds of this mostly forbidden place. He cannot help but make humorous asides, though, since North Korean society seems to be trapped in a time warp; the differences between North and South, Communist and free states, are so jarring that they elicit bemusement.
I happened to listen to this as an audio book from Libro.fm. Palin's warm voice was inviting and welcome. North Korean Journal is a pleasant way to spend a few hours of your day.
Jim's December 2019 pick, 2 of 2
I have been interested in reading this book for a while, and with the release of a film version imminent, knew that I the time was right. To be honest, I am curious to see how the filmmakers will translate this to the big screen; there is a lot to take in. I don't think that it's all going to make it, which is all the more reason why you should read Just Mercy, to get the full story, not a shaved down version of it.
Stevenson writes mostly about Walter McMillian, a man unjustly accused of a murder he could not possibly have commited. That story is woven throughout the text but among many others. There are the tales of teenagers tried as adults, others about women wrongly incarcerated, and more still about people with mental disabilities behind bars after their disorders were ignored by judges and inept lawyers. The whole notion of a citizen of the United States being entitled to a fair trial is thrown out the window here, as is the belief that among our rights are those of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A snowjob, if ever there were any.
Stevenson raises important issues and has plenty of examples of how our justice system is rigged against the common man, especially when that man is black and poor. In the course of his work helping those who cannot help themselves, Steveson realizes that "We're supposed to sentence people fairly after fully considering their life circumstances, but instead we exploit the inability of the poor to get the legal assistance they need - all so we can kill them with less resistance." This book makes me want to resist - hard. Join me.
Jim's December 2019 pick, 1 of 2
Finding Chika is Albom's most personal book to date. It is a companion piece to, if not an outright soulmate of, Tuesdays with Morrie, if books can be such. Morrie even makes a brief appearance. Rather than five people you meet in Heaven, Morrie and Chika are two people Albom has met on Earth, both of whom have changed his life to its foundation. One, a mentor/father figure, the other a child. Part of the subtitle reads " the making of a family, " and this is exactly that, the creation of a family born from his efforts to help an orphan receive the medical care she so desperately needs. If you had ever wondered if Morrie's influence on Mitch endured, look no further than Finding Chika.
Albom borrows the format of Morrie, too, alternating chapters between the past and the present, and as in Morrie, identifies and elaborates life lessons, this time, taught by a little girl, joyous in her approach to life despite being so close to death.
You will laugh. You will cry - a lot. As a parent, I connected completely to this book and Albom's instinct to help a sick kid. He also opens up about his beliefs, raising the "touchy-feely" factor sky high. Many people are put off by the spirituality in his works, but I find it comforting. It is what touches me the most. I was a big fan of the author before, but after reading Finding Chika, I am more so now than ever. This is a book that will speak to your soul.
Jim's November 2019 pick, 1 of 2
I knew, almost as soon as I started reading this book, that it was going to be good. My spidey-sense served me well. Anderson's book takes the reader to Lewiston, Maine and tells of the struggles by Somali refugees to create and native Mainers to maintain "home." The former take what they have and move forward, while the latter lament what they have lost and dwell on the past. That dichotomy creates a tension that sometimes erupts in protest but always is fed by misunderstanding.
Anderson treats both sides fairly and shares the wants and dreams of all with an even hand, though it is obvious that her heart is with the new Americans. Home Now is the story of people who want to feel safe and grounded. Isn't that what we all want? Anderson shows what a true "melting pot" can be. Her words give me hope for the future.
Jim's November 2019 pick, 2 of 2
If you remember that happiness is a warm puppy, or use a "wah-wah-wah" voice to mimic an adult speaking, or know what a kite-eating tree is, or a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, for that matter, this book is for you. I grew up with the Peanuts gang. Needless to say, I took to this book like Linus to his blanket.
The Peanuts Papers made me realize just how much Charles Schulz's comic strip kids influenced me (optimistic Charlie Brown = me). And, I never considered just how "deep" the Peanuts strips are, but the authors demonstrate the varied intellectual characteristics of Schulz's work time and again. Some essays, however, are bit too academic for my tastes. I thought that I was reading about a bunch of little kids and a beagle - silly me. The essays here also made me sad for the children of today who know Peanuts only from advertisements or the giant Macy's Thanksgiving Parade Snoopy balloon. Perhaps that explains why our society is in its current state. I don't know, but I am sure that if you are a fan of Charles Schulz and Peanuts, you will love this book.
Jim's October 2019 pick
His Dark Materials is Pullman's first trilogy about young Lyra Belacqua and her adventures in the North. La Belle Sauvage is the first book in Pullman's new trilogy, still with Lyra but, at least in the case of this book, as a vital but secondary character. Here, eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead is cast as Lyra's protector, from a devastating flood and men who want to kill her to stop a prophecy from becoming true.
From the start, Pullman keeps the tension high. The action sequences are thrilling to read. "Pulse-pounding" is an understatement. The abusive power of the church is still a focus of Pullman's storytelling and continues to leave me incredulous that these stories are meant for teens. This is pretty heady stuff.
If you are a fan of Philip Pullman, be prepared to be dazzled. If you are new to Lyra and her world, you will be amazed. This is a story, a series, not be missed.
Jim's September 2019, 2 of 2
It is 1969 and the living is not easy. The Vietnam War rages on. People are protesting in the streets. Racial strife continues to plague the country. Driving the rhythm of life is the music, music, music of the times, everything from folk to rock, from the Beatles to an up-and-coming band called the Allman Brothers. Of course, the music is all Norman cares about as he sets off cross country with his cousin Molly to find her brother, who has run away from home rather than live under the same roof as his right-wing father.
Anthem is the final book in Wiles' Sixties trilogy. She has a keen eye for recreating the feel of the time and through Molly's eyes captures the complexities of a nation in transition. I especially loved that characters from the first two books in the series appear to play a part in the cousin's cross-country odyssey. Wiles intersperses segments of news photography throughout the story to give the reader a sense of the reality the characters were living in. It is what drew me to the series in the first place and it is firmly in place here. I enjoyed this book from page one and was sad to see it end.
Jim's September 2019 pick, 1 of 2
The main reason that you should read this memoir is that it is written about the Boss by the Boss. All the interviews and research in the world cannot reveal what a person is really like on the inside. Here there is no middle man to pretty things up. Born to Run captures Springsteen raw, the good and the bad. At times he presents himself as an ordinary person simply trying to make it in the world like everybody else. Later, he's a concerned citizen commenting on the injustices around him. Then, he's a proud papa gushing about his burgeoning family. The big reveal is that, for most of his adult life, he was haunted by depression, which led him to struggle with personal relationships. Through it all, every step of the way, Springsteen is a man driven to by music. It is his way of making sense of the world.
Springsteen is not always a great writer; there are a few instances of leaden prose. However, there are moments when it seems like he is penning an extended lyric for a monster song. Beautiful visual references that made me stop reading and appreciate his skill as a songwriter. He is the Boss, after all. B-r-u-u-u-u-c-e is an American icon. These are his words, and they are worth your time. Saddle up, my friends.
Jim's August 2019 pick, 1 of 5
The opening scene of the film Saving Private Ryan is one of the most powerful in cinema yet lacks one thing - anyone of color. I do not think that Steven Spielberg was making a statement that there were no soldiers of color involved on that day. Growing up, all I ever saw on the silver screen were armies of white soldiers fighting Hitler and the Nazis; however, Linda Hervieux demonstrates in Forgotten that this was pure Hollywood whitewashing of history. Soldiers of color not only stormed the beaches of Normandy, but they also had a particularly tough job to do - deploy and maintain barrage balloons.
I had always wondered what those mini-blimps were. This books explains their use as a military weapon and gives a concise history of ballooning as well. As the subtitle indicates, Hervieux also explores the use of black troops throughout American history but focuses mainly on a handful of men who fought in the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion during WWII.
The book as a whole is fascinating. The author can be a little redundant, especially when explaining some Jim Crow practices here in the states, but overall, her chronicles of the men of the 320th glued me to the page. Herviweux makes the exploits of these brave men, who cared more for their country than it cared for them, come alive with rich details of their lives on the battlefields both in Europe and here at home. Most surprising is the treatment the men receive in England while training for D-Day. Let's just say that the Brits had a lot to teach us back then.
Forgotten is a worthy look at a facet of American history that has largely been left in the dust heap of time.
Jim's August 2019 pick, 2 of 5
Cormoran Strike is back! In their fourth outing Strike and his partner Robin are on the trail of crooked politicians. In the course of their investigations, they come across a rumor of a child being strangled and buried in a ditch decades ago. An hallucination of a deranged mental patient or an unfortunate memory that won't go away? Strike and Robin have their hands full.
What has always made this series stand out is the author's attention to detail and character development. Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) has a keen eye for the minute and the writing is rich. My favorite new character, Barclay, is a Scot, and his dialog is written with his accent intact - fun! Most interesting of all is the way the main players have changed over time. Galbraith generously allows Strike's and Robin's stories to take the focus away from the mystery at hand. Of course, their relationship is one that we fans have been eager to see mature beyond their initial state (nudge-nudge, wink-wink).
I was waiting for this book for a while and savored every page, knowing that it will be some time before the next adventure. I hope the wait won't be too long. As for you, dear reader, dive in and enjoy!
Jim's August 2019 pick, 3 of 5
I am new to Ruth Reichl. I have always known that at some point her work and I would cross paths. I just wasn't sure when. At last, the inevitable has happened, and I am so glad that it finally did.
Save Me the Plums is her memoir of her time as the managing editor of Gourmet magazine. Her stories of wining, dining, and traveling the world held me in thrall from the start, mostly because I listened to this as an audiobook (from libro.fm-check it out, seriously, you will not be disappointed), and Reichl's narration is warm and welcoming. I felt like I was sitting down with a good friend sharing her latest exploits as we sipped cups of coffee. This book also made me want to go out and scoop up a copy of Gourmet, which, of course, I cannot since it is no longer published. Sadly, this is chronicled in the book.
The world that Reichl writes about (limos, rubbing elbows with the hottest chefs, having a wardrobe budget) is way out of reach for most people. but when Reichl writes about food, she does so in a way that is accessible, not fussy. She has an attitude of semi-incredulity, as if she cannot believe that her job is to taste and to tell people about such delicacies, almost as if she doesn't deserve it. Her magazine may no longer be published, but her books still are, something for which we should all be thankful. Dig in, friends!
Jim's August 2019 pick, 4 of 5
It is no secret that our current Commander-in-Chief, bone spurs and all, has been called a lot of things, among them "racist." The title is a quote from candidate Trump, enlightening people of color that they should vote for him because he's just as good as any other candidate. What have they got to lose? In the book, Williams answers the question by examining the work of six people who have helped African Americans make advances in voting rights, education, housing, freedom of speech, public accommodations, and employment. By the time he is finished, Williams has spelled out clearly that African Americans, and society in general, have a lot to lose and have suffered social setbacks since Trump's inauguration.
Williams opens and ends the book examining Trump's background in real estate, recalling Trump's father's practices of refusing to rent to blacks and "the Don's" adopting of the same illegal ways. Rather than rant, which he easily could do, Williams uses facts, a lot of them, to support his observations. The stories of struggles and social successes should be enough for anyone to see that America had a lot at stake before Trump entered the Oval Office and unfortunately are watching civil rights dissolve with each passing day. Williams has hit the nail on the head with this one.
Jim's August 2019 pick, 5 of 5
This is the OG "Black Lives Matter" book. The one that practically started a whole new genre in young adult literature. The thing is that this is a book for young and not-so-young adults. It's subject is for everyone to know and understand because it is about some of the complex issues of our times. The main character, Starr Carter, watches as her close friend Khalil is killed by a police officer who had pulled them over as they were on their way home from a party. Did he have a gun in his hand or something else? That's the set up for the story, but there is so much more here about societal norms: what to do if you are black and the cops pull you over, the effects of white privilege, and the cliche that most young black males from inner cities are drug dealers (chapter 10 has got to be read more than once), among others. Then there are the issues of personal and familial identity and what is important enough for one to take a stand against.
Thomas does an outstanding job of bringing so much together here. Particularly effective are the times when she lets Starr's thoughts carry the weight of the moment, revealing the teen's struggle between doing what is safe and doing what is true to oneself. Starr attends a private high school of which the student body is mostly white and wealthy. Her daily emotional dance between the haves at school and the have-nots of her neighborhood is raw and real. Not only is this a good story, but it could open the eyes of folks who do not fully comprehend the reality that many people of color live. I cannot recommend this book enough.
Jim's July 2019 pick
In some ways, this is a horror story. Nickel Academy is a reform school in Florida from which few, if any, ever graduate. The gruesome goings-on at Nickel are related through the story of two boys, Elwood Curtis, a naive high school senior sent away on trumped up charges of car theft, and Jack Turner, a cynical boy who has been there for awhile. Elwood believes that hope is essential to living, while Turner has seen too much to trust anyone and to expect only the worst. Their guilt or innocence is of no matter; that they are a young black men in the South in the 1960s is the only thing that does.
Whitehead's prose is straightforward, allowing the details to speak for themselves. His matter-of-fact style makes the sinister practices of the Academy all the more striking. Whitehead modeled Nickel after a real Florida reform school, which is both shocking and no surprise at all, in our "land of the free and home of the brave," in which "all men are created equal."
The Nickel Boys is a startling peek into the darkness lying beneath humanity's righteousness. Appearances are meant to deceive and the truth lies below the surface.
Jim's June 2019 pick
America is heralded as "the land of the free and the home of the brave," yet anyone who has a pulse can easily see that that ideal is largely a sham. Alex Kotlowitz shows this time and again in An American Summer. Chicago in 2013 is a city of extremes: rich and poor, North Side and South Side. The poor are not free, especially if one is poor and black. Not only are there the shackles of economic limitations that leave one with few alternatives than to turn to petty crime, but there is also the constant fear of violence and the possibility of being shot even if one does try to rise above. Added to these is the knowledge of the citizens of the South Side that for outsiders, the victims got what they deserved, that they brought it on themselves, while those living within are aware that more than anything, they are victims of a system that counts them out before they have had a chance to prove themselves.
Kotlowitz brings these messages home in stories of people who are truly brave for facing each day with even a grain of hope. An American Summer left me wondering if our identities are bound by the worst thing that we have ever done? If so, then we are all guilty of some maliciousness and have no right to point fingers. These stories reveal that often our most vile actions are born out of frustration and anger. It would be easy to say that one always can make the choice not to turn to crime, to drugs, to anger; I ask you simply to walk a mile in the shoes of the souls of South Side Chicago before deciding once and for all.
A lot of WDKYMYB is the author telling stories about growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, hanging out with friends, maneuvering through school, and playing lots of sports. There are laugh-out-loud observations about adolescence and the awkwardness of an ever-changing body, something I could readily identify with. But underlying the relative ordinariness of life is that his life is lived in black skin, which brings a layer of complexity to every situation. Young elucidates the differences between "n**ger" and "n**ga, which should make it clear to anyone who has every wondered "But why do they call each other...?" He explains with humor and dead-eye seriousness a "down white boy" versus a "woke white boy." There is also a dissection of the effects of "white privilege."
What I most enjoyed about WDKYMYB, is that, whatever the topic, Young sees the absurdity of it brought on by people trying to rationalize their own choices. We're all screwed-up, some of us more than others.
WDKYMYB is an eye-opening, thought-provoking memoir that is bound to create conversations, with yourself, if with no one else.
Jim's March 2019 pick, 1 of 2
Let me say emphatically: this book is both enlightening and infuriating. Ellis examines several aspects of our current society and looks back at how various founding fathers first dealt with them. Topics include race, equality, law, and leadership. What Ellis points out through the words of Adams, Jefferson, Washington, and Madison is that America was founded by normal men, full of faults and uncertainty, not quasi-shaman who knew that every decision they made was to be enshrined for posterity. Yet, most Americans view these statesman as the latter, not to be questioned.
So, what's the big deal? Well, according to Ellis, just about everything that Americans consider to be hallmarks of what it means to be an American turns out to be a sham. The most maddening part is that not only did the founding fathers know it from the start, but that those in power have been perpetuating the deceit ever since. Black Lives Matter origins, here. Birth of the "one percenters," here, too. Needless to say, I've been "woke."
You will have to read the book if you want more details but will not be sorry that you did. Have a stress ball handy when you do, though. You've been warned.
Jim's March 2019 pick, 2 of 2
Ms. Anderson, Laurie,
has written a memoir
chronicling her life.
In her youth, she hated
yet, that became her strength,
capturing the thoughts and experiences
of teenage girls suffering
from life's impressions of them
as lesser than,
not good enough,
property to be handled
no permission needed.
She writes of her breakout novel
about the rape of a fourteen year old girl,
based on her own nightmare
that haunts her to this day.
and those of too many other victims
both male and female,
must be heard by everyone
if we are to save our children
Jim's February 2019 pick
This is a charming book. At first, I wasn't sure if it were meant for young adults or just regular adults, although I am not sure if there is such a thing as "regular adults." My hesitancy stems from the protagonist, Martin Kelso, who is eleven at the start of the novel and a high school senior at the end. In between, Fried reels out vignettes of Martin's life, as the titular character slowly transforms from a kid to an almost-adult. A lot of what Martin experiences, I easily identified with - first kiss, hashing out life's intricacies with a small group of close friends, high school hi-jinks. In some ways, I felt like I was reading about my own past in a pleasant, reassuring way, often catching myself thinking, Oh, yeah, I remember that. I guess, then, that the martin chronicles is meant for adults looking to reminisce or for young adults searching for a little self-reflection. In either case, Fried superbly captures the quirky journey of being a teenager in this affectionate ode to growing up.
Jim's January 2019 pick
This book did not turn out the way I expected. I thought that this was going to be a book about discovering one's identity, as in coming out of the closet. Instead, Dear Evan Hansen is about the power of lies and the consequences of not speaking up to quell them. And, what if the lies actually lead to some good? Does that make it okay to sustain the lies and perpetuate them further?
The answers are for both Evan and the reader to figure out and will be the deciding factor whether Evan is seen as a hero or a villain. I've made up my mind. You'll have to tell me what you think.
The story, adapted from the Broadway musical, is captivating from the start and had me eagerly coming back to find out what Evan's fate would be and if he could finally manage to get out of his own way.