Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.”

In the bestselling book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the title The Warmth of Other Suns, draws parallels between the often-unspoken caste system in the United States with those of India and Nazi Germany to elucidate the innate, systemic racism that is intentionally rooted and entwined in the history and core foundations of our country. This work combines deep, immersive research and moving narratives, such as Wilkerson’s own experiences, to express and relate how this invisible hierarchy affects the opportunities, safety, and day-to-day life of black Americans today.

Wilkerson first shines a light on current events, painting a disturbing picture. She describes the escalating racial tensions in America as “pathogens” or “toxins” that were never completely eradicated with the end of slavery or the implementation of civil rights legislation, but were rather buried beneath the surface in the “permafrost” until certain circumstances brought them back to the surface. She then considers the arbitrary construction of human divisions across America, as well as in India and Nazi Germany, before exploring eight distinct pillars of caste she believes are the foundations of the caste system in the United States.

After elaborating upon these powerful pillars, ranging from topics of divine will and endogamy to dehumanization and stigma, Wilkerson discusses the “tentacles” and consequences of the caste system lingering in the lives of black Americans today. One of the most telling parts of this book for me was learning about the many forms of backlash that transpired after President Barack Obama’s election and re-election, as many claimed the accomplishment of a black man in the Oval Office was a sign that racism was “dead.” This could not be further from the truth.

Lastly, Wilkerson calls for an awakening and the need for action in order to combat the dangerous, debilitating, and ever-present caste system preserving and prolonging systemic racism in the United States and has a strong response to those who dismiss racism based on the reasoning that it isn’t “their fault,” or the fault of their ancestors:

We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now. And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands.”

Overall, this title is extraordinarily written as Wilkerson writes in a compelling, thoughtful, and revealing way about this subject, and if you are looking for a raw, honest, and thought-provoking title to learn more about the origins of systemic racism in America, I would wholeheartedly recommend picking up this book.

This book is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook

Virtual Book Club – ‘The Underground Railroad’ on August 26th

On Wednesday, August 26th, at 2pm, Virtual Book Club will be discussing The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Join in and talk about a popular book with one of our librarians. We are using GoTo Meeting which will allow patrons to video chat with the librarian about the book! Information about how to join is listed below.

Curious what The Underground Railroad is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher:

A magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. Their first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Virtual Book Club
Wed, Aug 26, 2020 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (CDT)

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/720337645

You can also dial in using your phone.
United States: +1 (224) 501-3412

Access Code: 720-337-645

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Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

I had not heard anything about this book before I checked it out on OverDrive, but the plot appealed to me right from the beginning as it’s a twisty thriller with a noir feel. Mysteries abound in Lippman’s newest book as a housewife decides to upend her entire life in order to make a new name for herself.

Lady in the Lake  by Laura Lippman is a psychological thriller mixed with elements of classic crime noir set in 1960s Baltimore. Madeline ‘Maddie’ Schwartz is a housewife, happy with her pampered easy life. Well, she was satisfied with that life up until this year when she decided to leave her eighteen year marriage to start over and live a passionate life that was more meaningful.

Starting a new life, Maddie wants to make a difference. After learning of a young girl’s disappearance, she decides to help police look for the girl. Using those interactions as a step-up, Maddie works her way onto the staff of the city’s newspaper, the Star. Trying to make a name for herself, Maddie is on the lookout for a story that will help her rise to fame. She finds the story of a missing woman whose body was found in the fountain of the park lake and decides to investigate.

A young African-American woman who enjoyed a good time, Cleo Sherwood disappeared one night. No one seems concerned with how the woman ended up there, so Maddie begins to dig into her disappearance. Cleo’s ghost is not happy with Maddie poking around into her life and death. She just wants to be left alone.

This book changes perspectives between many different characters as readers learn about the characters on the periphery of Maddie’s life. As she looks into Cleo’s murder, Maddie investigates a wide number of people, but fails to truly see what lies right in front of her. Her inability to see this leads to dangerous consequences for herself, those closest to her, and the people she comes into contact with on a daily basis.

If you have the chance, I highly recommend that you listen to the audiobook version of this book. Since this book jumps around to multiple points of view, the narrator is able to add different accents, dialogue, and authentic speech to each character. This definitely made the listen more than worthwhile and helped me keep the multitude of characters separate in my head.

Lippmann based the crimes that occur in this book on two real-life disappearances. If you’re interested in learning more, Lippman did an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered that covers her inspiration.


This book is available in the following formats:

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert tells the story of three women whose families are all affected by the consequences of a local school district that loses its accreditation. The twelve miles that separate South Fork and Crystal Ridge may not seem like a long distance, but the conditions present in each area are drastically different. All three women and their families find themselves clashing with the difference in circumstances those twelve miles have thrust open them. With affluent Crystal Ridge resisting South Fork’s advance on their children’s education and sports prospects, parents in South Fork are fighting for the right to transfer their children to a better and more equal school district that still has its accreditation.

Anaya Jones grew up surrounded by the South Fork community. Her father even taught at the local South Fork school. Fresh out of college and the first college graduate in her family, Anaya wishes to teach at South Fork just like her dad did. She wants to show the families who attend South Fork that there are people who care for them, no matter what the public says about their town. With South Fork’s lose of accreditation for their school district however, Anaya finds herself instead working as the newest teacher at a top elementary school in the nearby affluent community of Crystal Ridge. Anaya is thoroughly unprepared for the tense situation she is walking into, even though her family’s situation has her slightly on edge around Crystal Ridge anyway.

Jen Covington has worked as a nurse her entire life, a career that she hoped would help her when she became a mother. Despite her and her husband’s intense desire to become parents, Jen’s history and physical body have resulted in a long, painful journey with no baby in sight. After realizing they were unable to have a baby of their own, Jen and her husband turned to adoption, hoping that process would be quicker. Adoption, however, took a long time as well, with Jen and her husband learning as much as they can to prepare themselves for their daughter’s arrival. Once their adopted daughter is home, Jen finds herself struggling in her new day-to-day life despite how much she prepared. Add in a move to Crystal Ridge and Jen and her new family soon find themselves dropped right into the Crystal Ridge and South Fork dilemma.

Camille Gray is the quintessential suburban mom. The wife of an executive, mother of three, PTA chairwoman, and master fundraiser for Crystal Ridge’s annual run, everyone assumes that Camille’s life is perfect. She thinks everything is perfect too. Everything changes when she learns that South Fork has lost its accreditation and that there is a possibility that Crystal Ridge could be affected by this. Students may be given the opportunity to transfer to a school decided upon by the administration. Once it is decided that Crystal Ridge will be the transfer school, the already unruly chaos taking over the community is ratcheted up. While Camille struggles to navigate the challenges presented by this school upheaval, her personal life is also undergoing major changes. Her strength is tested as she works to find a new normal for herself and her family.

What I enjoyed about No One Ever Asked is that the author chose to tell this story from three different points of view which really allowed the reader to understand each person’s motivations for their actions. This book will force you to challenge your perception of discrimination and prejudice right alongside each woman as they struggle with what they believe to be true.

Southern Rites: What Changes and What Remains

southern ritesSouthern Rites is a documentary that takes place in Montgomery County, Georgia. Gillian Laub, a photographer, first visited Montgomery County to photograph the town’s racially divided proms, gaining an insight into community tension. After photographing this, Laub’s story is published in the New York Times Magazine, which inadvertently gives the town unwanted notoriety and ends up forcing them to integrate their proms. Heading back one year later, Laub is not allowed to film the integrated proms and instead stumbles upon another story.

Laub ends up following two main events unfolding in Mount Vernon, GA: 1) an election campaign that the town hopes will lead to its first African-American sheriff and 2) the trial of white resident who is charged with murdering a young black man. Tension is high throughout the community and this documentary really gets to the heart of the problems. As Laub continues to investigate, multiple stories unfold surrounding the murder and each person affected by this tragedy shares their own personal feelings. Southern Rites travels along well-established racial lines in the community and shows how complex emotions and complicated truths are so well entangled. This documentary simultaneously highlights for readers how far we as a society have come, but also how far we still have to go in terms of racial understanding.