Tag Archives: Resolutions

Resolve to Read 2018: A Book of True Crime

As we mentioned here previously, we here at the Library are Resolving to Read (more…different….) in 2018, and tackling both Book Riot’s and Scholastic’s 2018 Reading Challenges.  In the hopes of encouraging you to broader your literary horizons along with us, here are some suggestions for books that fall within the categories of the various challenges.

Today’s Challenge: Book Riot 2018 Read Harder Challenge
Category: A Book of True Crime

“True Crime” is a rich and diverse genre, that taps into some of our most basic human tendencies: creating narratives to explain how things happened, providing closure to questions and events, and helping us understand what makes other people tick, and why they do what they do.  The lurid details that many of them provide only add to the appeal of these books that often combine superlative research and analysis with visceral violence.

The neat thing about true crime is how wide a scope it covers in terms of its material.  Fans of Law and Order or CSI might feel instantly at home in this genre, but there is room for a surprisingly wide array of interesting.  History, science, government, economics…all can form the basis of a sensational true crime book.  So even if you’re not a dedicated scholar of jurisprudence or police work, there is still a wealth of books for you to savor within this genre!

Via TED Talks

True crime is also a genre that is maturing and evolving constantly, and, as Book Riot points out in their list, is a field that is getting better as a result of more diversity among the authors and subject matter they cover.  So here are some of our picks for some sensational reads for your 2018 Resolution.  We made a point to select books that both represented the diversity in the genre, as well as the many different angles that true crime can take!

Truevine : two brothers, a kidnapping, and a mother’s quest : a true story of the Jim Crow SouthAt the heart of Beth Macy’s enormously wide-ranging book is the kidnapping of two young boys from the tobacco farm on which they lived and worked in 1899.  George and Willie Muse, both albino Blacks, ended up being sold to the circus, performing in sideshows around the United States, as well as in Buckingham Palace and Madison Square Garden.  Their popularity was a result of their skin color and the outlandish performances that were staged for them, presenting them as everything from cannibals from remote jungles to martians.  But even as Macy shares George and Willie’s remarkable story, she also tells the story of their mother’s quest to find them again.  This is a book that was decades in the researching and making, and is jam-packed full of details, not only about the Muse family and their incredible life stories, but also the history of the circus in the United States, the realities of Jim Crow policies and laws in the American South, and the travel narrative of Macy’s research, all of which combines to create haunting and memorable story.

The Fact of a Body : A Murder and a Memoir:  Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s genre-bending book was highlighted by many as one of the best of 2017…and for good person.  Intensely personal, unflinching in its dedication, and absolutely gripping, this is both the story of a child murderer named Rickey Langley and the Marzano-Lesnevich’s personal history.  On her first day at work for a New Orleans defense firm, Marzano-Lesnevich was shown a video of Langley.  Though staunchly opposed to the death penalty, watching that tape, she explains, she wanted to see this man dead.  As a victim of child abuse herself, the reaction in an understandable one.  But as Marzano-Lesnevich wades deeper into her own story, trying to navigate her sense of betrayal, not only at the family member who perpetrated the abuse, but the family members who did nothing concrete to stop it.  This book succeeds best when Marzano-Lesnevich deals with personal issues.  Her exploration of Langley isn’t quite as searing, but this is still a book that will hold the interest of devoted true crime readers and those readers who love memoirs and family dramas, as well.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer: For more than ten years, an unknown predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he committed ten murders. The person then disappeared, and has eluded capture even since.  Three decades later, true crime journalist Michelle McNamara, resolved to discover the identity of the person she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.  Her research is staggering in its depth and insight, and the energy that she invested in this case brings her story to life.  Michelle, sadly, passed away while writing this book, and it was completed in her memory by her lead researcher.  Though there isn’t the closure of a perpetrator at the end of this story, it’s almost more memorable for being open-ended.  This is a book that forces the reader to reckon with the aftermath of violent crimes, and to peer into the lives of people who are forever defined–and forever damaged–by their involvement with this case.  This is a book that is already being hailed as a classic in the true crime genre, and offers plenty of goodies for readers who revel in clues and conspiracies.  The introduction by Gillian Flynn only adds to the appeal.

Midnight in Peking: Paul French’s riveting book focuses on the unsolved murder of a British schoolgirl in January 1937.  The mutilated body of Pamela Werner was found at the base of the Fox Tower–a place that, in local superstition, is home to the maliciously seductive fox spirits As British detective Dennis and Chinese detective Han investigate the mystery only deepens and in a city on the verge of invasion rumor and superstition run rampant.  This is not only the story of a single investigation, but of on an extraordinary time: In 1937, a clash between Chinese and Japanese troops outside Beiping triggered the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and would lead to Peking being renamed Beijing.  This is a story of the last chaotic days before the outbreak of that war, and the way that international journalists covered not only the murder of Pamela Werner, but also the land in which she was killed.  French is and analyst and commentator on China and North Korea, and that expertise shines through in this book that is as much a political history as it is a true crime tale.

The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in ParisOn the morning of November 7, 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a desperate seventeen-year-old Jewish refugee, walked into the German embassy in Paris and shot Ernst vom Rath, a Nazi diplomat. Two days later vom Rath lay dead, and the Third Reich exploited the murder to unleash Kristallnacht in a bizarre concatenation of events that would rapidly involve Ribbentrop, Goebbels, and Hitler himself. But was Grynszpan a crazed lone gunman or agent provocateur of the Gestapo? Was he motivated by a desire to avenge Jewish people, or did his act of violence speak to an intimate connection between the assassin and his target, as Grynszpan later claimed? Jonathan Kirsch’s book is part true-crime legal drama, and part historical detective work that digs to the roots of a nearly-forgotten story that has huge implications for our understanding of the Holocaust and Nazi occupation of Europe.  His concluding meditations on the nature of resistance (which may or may not be relevant to this story–you’ll have to decide for yourself) are really thought-provoking, and add another dimension to an already compelling book.

 

Until next time, beloved patrons–good luck with those resolutions!

Resolve to Read 2018: Books With Imaginary Languages

2018 is a year for expanding our reading horizons, and we here at the Free for All are thrilled to be bringing you suggestions and discussions based on two different reading challenges.  This week, we’re looking at Scholastic’s Reading Resolution Challenge.  It’s a challenge geared towards younger readers, but since when should that stop anyone?  Today, in fact, we’ll mix up the challenge a bit, and focus on “adult” books that fit this challenge category:

Today’s Challenge: Scholastic Reading Resolution
Category: Read a book that contains an imaginary language

Generally speaking, most books with their own invented language tend to be listed as science fiction and/or fantasy…which is not terribly surprising, all things considered.  Fans of Tolkien and George R.R. Martin will already be familiar with the languages found in Middle Earth, or Winterfell.  But whether you’re fluent in Elvish, or just looking to challenge yourself, there should be something for you on this list.  This is a selection for science fiction and fantasy fans, as well as those who don’t consider themselves genre fans.  We hope you find something here to challenge you, and are always here to help you find more!

The WakePaul Kingsnorth used crowdfunding to get his book published, and assumed it was going to be a flop.  As he told NPR“I’m writing a book about a period in history no one knows about, in a language no one can understand, with a central character who’s horrible. There’s absolutely no way anyone’s going to touch this with a bargepole, but I don’t care!”  (And well done, Mr. Kingsnorth, for loving your dream that much; we should all be so lucky).  Fortunately, however, he was proven wrong, and this book was not only a hit, but was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.  This is the story of Buccmaster, a man whose sons are killed at the Battle of Hastings and his family and farm are destroyed by the Norman invaders, and who leads a dangerous mission of revenge on the invaders across the scorched English landscape.  The story is told in what Kingsnorth refers to as  a “shadow tongue,” a mashup of Middle English and modern-day English that reflects, fairly accurately, the language that Buccmaster might have used (had he actually lived outside the pages of this novel).  It makes the book rather slow-going at first (I suggest you try reading it out loud for a bit), but once you become accustomed to the cadence and flow of the story, it’s mesmerizing.

Cat’s Cradle: Kurt Vonnegut had long been a hero of mine for his stance on banning books, and the work that his memorial library continues to do when his books are challenged and/or banned.  But it wasn’t until long after I learned to respect Vonnegut the person that I developed a real respect for Vonnegut as a writer, but Cat’s Cradle was the book that did that for me.  This satirical comedy about the atomic age focuses on an everyman hero named John (or Jonah), who sets out to write a book about what important Americans did on the day Hiroshima was bombed. While researching this topic, John becomes involved with the children of Felix Hoenikker, a Nobel laureate physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb. John travels to Ilium, New York (fictional locale), to interview the Hoenikker children and others for his book.  Eventually, John and the Hoenikker children end up on a Caribbean island (you’ll have to read the book for the journey to make any sense, trust me), where the natives speak a remarkable and invented dialect that sounds in some ways like creole dialects spoken in the American south (for example “twinkle, twinkle, little star” is rendered “Tsvent-kiul, tsvent-kiul, lett-pool store”).  Though this language isn’t as central to the plot as Kingsnorth’s, the sense of strangeness its lends to the story, and the power it has to isolate the characters, is powerful stuff indeed.  Vonnegut is one of the few writers who could make such a black and fatalistic story genuinely funny and, somehow, strangely hopeful, too.

In the Land of Invented Languages: For those fans of non-fiction, fear not!  There are plenty of imaginary languages for you to encounter, as well, as Arika Okrent proves in this fascinating and fun book about humankind’s constant quest to build a better language. Peopled with charming eccentrics and exasperating megalomaniacs, this story covers all the quirky attempts at better and universal languages, beginning with Esperato.  But Okrent doesn’t judge by usefulness or universality.  Babm, Blissymbolics, Loglan (not to be confused with Lojban), and other invented languages that people have attempted to develop and use are discussed here.  This is a book that will remind you why language is such a miraculous, powerful thing…and may give you a few moments of laughter, as well.

 

Come into the Library to meet some more books with imaginary languages today!

Resolve to Read: The Pura Belpré Award

2018 is a year for expanding our reading horizons, and we here at the Free for All are thrilled to be bringing you suggestions and discussions based on two different reading challenges.  This week, we’re looking at Scholastic’s Reading Resolution Challenge.  It’s a challenge geared towards younger readers, but since when should that stop anyone?  The suggestions on this list hold appeal for readers of all ages (I read to my cat on a regular basis, for example).

This post features the challenge to read a Pura Belpré Award-winning book.  The Pura Belpré Award was established in 1996, and is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library (hooray for Librarians!).  It is presented annually, as the award’s website explains, to a Latino/Latina writer andLatino/Latina illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate.

As huge fans of #WeNeedDiverse Books, and as a Library community that revels in sharing all the cultural and personal differences that make our community such a rich one, exploring the books in this award was a real treat.  There are some stunning illustrations and moving stories to be found among the winners of the Pura Belpré Award, and we are thrilled to feature some of them here!

2017 Author Award Winner: 

Juana & Lucas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina: A spunky young girl from Colombia loves playing with her canine best friend and resists boring school activities, especially learning English, until her family tells her that a special trip is planned to an English-speaking place.  According to the award presenters, Medina “presents with breezy humor the day-to-day reflections and experiences universal to childhood—school, family and friendships—through the eyes of the invincible Juana, growing up in Bogotá with her beloved dog, Lucas. This charmingly designed book for young readers portrays the advantages—and challenges—of learning a second language.

2017 Illsutrator Award Winner: 

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, illustrated by Raúl Gonzalez, written by Cathy Camper: Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria are living the dream–they are the proud owners of their very own garage. But when their beloved cat, Genie, goes missing, they must embark on a wild road trip through a mysterious corn maze, into the center of the earth, and down to the realm of Mictlantecuhtli. Mic’s the Aztec god of the Underworld, but even worse: he’s a catnapper! Now it’s three clever compadres against one angry, all-powerful god. How will the Lowriders ever save their cat–or themselves?  According to the award committee, “The ballpoint pen art creates a fantastical borderlands odyssey, packed with subversively playful cultural references that affirm a vibrant Chicanx cultura.”

2016 Author Award Winner: 

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir, by Margarita Engle: In her memoir for young people, Margarita Engle, who was the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War. Her heart was in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country–but most of the time she lived in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers fly through the enchanted air to her beloved island. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupted at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Engle’s worlds collided in the worst way possible. Would she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?  The awards committee noted that “Engle’s memoir of living in two cultures and the inability to cross the sky to visit family will resonate with youth facing similar circumstances.”

2017 Illustrator Award Winner: 

Drum dream girl : how one girl’s courage changed music: Illustrations by Rafael López; Poem by Margarita Engle: This lyrical tale follows a young Cuban girl in the 1930s as she strives to become a drummer, despite being continually reminded that only boys play the drums, and that there’s never been a female drummer in Cuba. Includes note about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl in 1930s Cuba, who became a world-renowned drummer, and Anacaona, the all-girl dance band she formed with her sisters.  The awards committee said that “Rafael López’s masterful art brings to life the drumbeats in Margarita Engle’s story. His dreamy illustrations transport us to Millo’s tropical island,”

For a full list of Pura Belpré Award winning books, check out the full list at the American Library Association’s website!

My New Year’s Resolution…

Someone at a holiday party started talking about New Year’s Resolutions yesterday, which is a conversation I generally despise…but this time around, I came up with an answer.

I want to learn to be more like Jessica Fletcher.

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For those of you who have never had the good fortune to meet Jessica, she is the main character on Murder, She Wrote, a character played by the incomparable and sublime Angela Lansbury.

Jessica Beatrice Fletcher lives in Cabot Cove, the most stereotypical Maine town to ever have been brought to the screen–698 Candlewood Lane, to be precise.  Though she studied journalism in her youth, she worked as a teacher for many years before becoming a world-renown mystery author, a change that only happened when her nephew, Grady, submitted one of her manuscripts to a publisher without Jessica knowing.  Over the course of twelve seasons, she published some 42 books, and solved nearly 300 murders, but my count, anyways (there were 268 episodes of the show, and 4 tv movies).

angela-lansbury-at-her-typewriter-murder-she-wroteThe format of these shows are pretty reliable in terms of plot–Jessica in involved in some endeavor that is broadening her horizons, whether that is traveling, preparing for visitors, finishing a new novel, working on her garden, or teaching a class (I remember that she taught writing and criminology, though I am sure there were more).  In pretty short order, someone turns up dead under mysterious circumstances, and Jessica proves herself the only person capable of unmasking the murderer (if it were real, Cabot Cove would have one of the highest murder rates in the nation–higher than a city 20 times its size!).  Usually, she is assisted or threatened in some way by a famous or soon-to-be famous guest star (this blog post does a good job pointing out some of the most famous names that appeared on the show).  From Lansbury’s fellow Broadway stars, like Jerry Orbach and Harvey Fierstein, to television familiars like George Takei and Neil Patrick Harris, Cabot Cove was awash with talent.

As a kid, I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch Murder, She Wrote, and now that I am grown-up (or at least doing a decent impression of a grown-up), I am lucky enough to have a group of dear friends with whom I intend to grow old and curmudgeonly, and who enjoy Murder, She Wrote with the same unabashed relish that I do.

And the more I think about, the more I am convinced that I want to be more like Jessica Fletcher.

flat800x800075fI am not alone in this quest.  There have been several internet posts dedicated to Jessica Fletcher as an anti-ageist paragon for the ages, which wisely points out that she begins a new life and embarks on new adventures at precisely the age when ‘society’ tells us that we should stop adventuring.  Another post talks about Jessica’s courage, facing the world as a single, older lady, and taking down snarky law-enforcement agents, rascally businessmen, and lecherous retirees with equal aplomb and grace.  And I agree with each of them whole heartedly.

But for me, Jessica Fletcher isn’t just who I want to be when I get older, but who I want to be now.

On the surface, Jessica wears whatever she wants to, and doesn’t apologize to anyone (this is also proven by Mrs. Fletcher’s Closet, a blog, which chronicles Jessica’s wardrobe by episode and by season).  My favorite moment of the series, as my friends know, is in Series 1, Episode 2, when Jessica dons her enormous fish cardigan:

The Cardigan, front and back, courtesy of http://www.fantasi.net/knittedgoods.html
The Cardigan, front and back, courtesy of http://www.fantasi.net/knittedgoods.html

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Even in the not-so-subtle eighties, I feel like this was a bold fashion choice.  But Jessica doesn’t let her cardigan boss her around–she wears those leaping trout and whale-things with pride and a confidence that I really would love to emulate.  I’m not sure that I myself could ever successfully pull off a wooly homage to our friends of the sea, but in a world that seems convinced it has the right to tell people, particularly women, what they “can” and “cannot” wear, when, and why, the fish sweater is a source of constant inspiration.

Which leads me to another point–Jessica Fletcher has guts.  And not only because she faces down murderers, criminals, and ne’er-do-wells, often without back-up, and often at the risk of her own safety and well-being.  What I love is that Jessica lives fearlessly–she glides from Connecticut to Ireland, from the American southwest to New York City, frequently on her own.  And she turns each of these trips into an adventure, making new acquaintances, trying new things, hunting down criminals, and nearly always making allies with local law enforcement.

s01e01-jessica-joggingNo matter where she goes, Jessica makes friends, from multi-millionaires to homeless wanderers.   She respects other people’s stories and journeys without regard to the material benefits they can provide her, but, more importantly, without compromising her own needs or beliefs.  When visiting the estate of a ridiculously wealthy friend, Jessica is to be seen jogging around his estate of a morning in her quintessential tracksuit, hair and make-up stunning and intact (see the photo on the left).  While helping some local immigrants to Cabot Cove, Jessica not only faces down the US government, but a Soviet spy, as well.  And then serves dinner without missing a beat.

1395591810-0More than anything, as these examples show, Jessica is strong enough to live her life on her terms.  She doesn’t shrink from living alone after the death of her husband, from starting a new career later in life, from venturing into a new romance (though no man ever got the best of Ms. J.B. Fletcher), from escaping from an ancient Irish castle, or from adopting one of her many impromptu disguises and swanning around where she is not otherwise allowed.  And, no matter how many demands her friends, family, and her crime-fighting may make on her time, Jessica doesn’t let anything stand in the way of her writing.  For twelve years (at least), she put out an average of two-and-a-half books a year.

And, speaking of which, Jessica is a dedicated patron of the Cabot Cove Library.  To the point where she is allowed to lock up after the Librarian leaves.  There is no higher honor than that, dear readers, I can assure you.

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And so, for all these reasons, and so many, many more, I hope that, in 2017, I can learn to be more like Jessica Fletcher.

If you would like to learn a little more about the Jessica Fletcher Lifestyle, check out the first season of Murder, She Wrote, as well as the many spin-off books that the tv series inspired.