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:

Cannabis : The Illegalization of Weed in America by Box Brown

I recently saw a local news story in which Illinois state senator Toi Hutchinson said that the legalization of cannabis in her state came as a result of the differing sides “hashing it out” to come to agreement. I don’t know whether or not the pun was intended, but as a librarian interested in languages, I appreciated it.

Soon after, I spotted the graphic novel Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America on display at the library and figured it would be a good way to better educate myself on the topic right at our doorstep. I was not disappointed. This graphic novel has four pages of sources cited at the end! It is equal parts interesting and informative.

It starts with what is known about early humans’ use of cannabis sativa from biology and mythology. It outlines how the plant has been cultivated for its various uses across the world (think: textiles & oils too). It traces the etymology of the many different words we use for it: hash, Mary Jane, reefer, weed, to name just a few. I learned that the word marijuana is believed to be derived from slang usage in Mexico near Catholic missionaries, where the priests condemned its use. Locals would tell the priest they were just spending time with Maria Juana!

The graphic novel delves into the “Reefer Madness” era during which commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger worked to criminalize its use by making false, racist claims about its use and users. It discusses how cannabis has been regulated through legislation and how its reputation has been manipulated. The graphic novel concludes with present-day uses and a bibliography listing sixty sources readers can seek out for further learning on the subject.

I highly recommend this book and I look forward to reading Box Brown’s other titles, including Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman and Tetris: The Games People Play.

You can also learn more on this topic from Illinois Policy, an independent organization that seeks to educate and engage Illinois citizens.

 

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is a writer that never fails me. I know when I pick up one of her books, there’s a very good chance I will enjoy it. I recently finished her newest book, A Spark of Light, and found myself hooked from beginning to end. I seldom recommend you read a book over listening to it, but for this book, I recommend doing just that. My reason? This book is told backwards. If you have a somewhat short attention span(like I do), you might miss the verbal announcement of when they go to a different hour.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult takes on provocative issues in this book. Picoult shows that each issue presented needs alternate viewpoints in order to see the full truth. Trigger warning: this book deals with topics of abortion, gun violence, racism, and mentions rape and incest. These topics are all timely, presented equally, and are certainly worthy of debate in any society.

Morning begins like any other at the Center. Staff open the women’s reproductive health services clinic to a wide variety of people who need care. Whether you need abortions, birth control, cancer screenings, wellness checks, etc., the Center is there to help. The fact that the Center even exists is controversial, with demonstrators barricading the road and building every day trying to derail, confuse, and degrade the people who need the Center’s help.

Everything comes to a screeching halt when a single protestor makes his way into the Center armed with a gun and takes everyone hostage. Seeing events unfold from the viewpoints of staff, visitors, and patients allows readers to better understand their reasons for behaving the way they do. Unraveling the day backward hour by hour, this novel starts at the tensest moment with Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, negotiating for the release of all inside the Center. The gunman, negotiator, doctors, nurses, and women who have come to the Center have their lives examined as we start at their lowest point and move back.

Each person with ties to the Center is equally fascinating. A police hostage negotiator is trying to work when his phone vibrates and his heart stops. His teenage daughter and his older sister are trapped in the clinic alongside a pro-life protestor disguised as a patient, a doctor working seemingly in opposition to his faith, a nurse attempting to calm her panic to save a wounded woman, a young woman there to end a pregnancy, an older woman who needs help understanding some devastating news she received, and the armed hostage taker who just wants someone to listen to what he has to say.

Even though this novel is told backward, the story unravels naturally as each characters’ lives are slowly peeled away. Readers are privy to the complexities involved in trying to balance the right to life with the right to choose as the reasonings for each person’s trip to the Center is slowly revealed.


This book is available in the following formats:

How Not To Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People by D.L. Hughley

D.L. Hughley, co-author of How Not To Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People, one of the original Kings of Comedy, is a wildly successful comedian, radio host, actor, and political commentator. In the early 1990s, he was the first host of BET’s Comic View and later went on to produce and star in the sitcom, The Hughleys as well as appear as a television correspondent on the Jay Leno Show, among many other accomplishments.

In today’s scorching social and political climate, when we struggle to openly discuss racism and police brutality, Hughley takes a different approach: satire.  Historically, satire has been used to scrutinize societal views. A basic web definition describes satire as “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” Hughley indeed draws on irony to discuss how largely white audiences explain the topic of police brutality while also offering prescriptions for how People of Color (POC) should  carry themselves when encountering police officers while having little to no relevant first-hand experience.

In How Not To Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People,  the authors devote entire chapters to some of the following “prescriptions” offered by white people for not getting shot: 1. Comply with police orders; 2.) Don’t Talk Back; 3.) Don’t Match The Description; 4.) How To Do Your Hair; 5.) End White-on-White Crime; 6.)  How to Be Nice and Quiet and 7.) How To Not Be A Reverse Racist. (Nevermind, though, that “compliance” does not guarantee protection from police violence, a point Hughley drives home throughout the book). Hughley’s clever use of satire and sardonic wit enables readers to infer the ridiculousness of offering overly-simplistic and misinformed “solutions” to complex problems.

Now, you’ve heard of “mansplaining,” right?  See, “mansplaining” describes the phenomenon of men attempting to dominate debates centering around cultural norms and realities that negatively impact the lives of a majority of women but while having no first-hand experience themselves. We can hopefully understand what is inherently flawed in a system in which those who are least impacted attempt to silence those who are most impacted, yes?

And it behooves me now to offer the disclaimer that the act of identifying and validating a societal ill is by no means a condemnation of, in this case, all men. So there. Glad we got that settled.

But by the same token, the term “whitesplaining” –hardly an accusation against all white people (come on, now)–describes the phenomenon of white people attempting to dominate discussions about racial profiling and police violence having had little to no relevant experience in that department. At it’s core, this book pokes fun at whitesplaining, and I happen to think it does a marvelous job. Imagine if I attempted to explain to Deaf individuals how they should conduct themselves in interactions with hearing people? Or if I presumed to know how LGBTQ individuals should carry themselves around their hetero counterparts in order to fend off discrimination? Really, even apolitical examples work to illustrate that it just doesn’t logically hold up that a non-expert would exude any respectable amount of authenticity in matters he or she is not experienced. And, no, oversimplifying these matters as some partisan ploy in identity politics is hardly a legitimate reason to fight against fair representation – that only occurs when we are willing to listen to and validate experiences that are different from our own.

Really, the message is simple: how about, at the very least, we humor our fellow humans enough not to try and shut them up or worse–call them crazy–when they speak up on topics with which we ourselves have little experience? How about we give our fellow humans the benefit of the doubt without gaslighting them, especially when we are dealing with issues reaching critical mass. I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a society that listens to and validates the experiences of its members.

Enter comedy. Only a skilled comedian is able to shine a light on brutal truths about humanity and elicit, of all things, laughter when tears are the more appropriate response. Why? Because a comedian, like a scientist, scrutinizes and magnifies painful truths about society and humanity s/he shares with a wider audience. During that time spent together, the comic and the audience laugh together at what is wrong with the world and for that brief moment in time creates an environment of hope and possibility. Comedians unify audiences through the use of humor and I am astounded at how successfully they can, at their best, create transformative atmospheres and opportunities to facilitate genuine, life-changing understanding. To me, comedy can help break down barriers that prevent us from listening to our fellow human beings with an open mind and, if we’re lucky, having a genuine understanding with one another.

Check out this interview from NPR with D.L. Hughley as he discusses his book!

 

 

 

 

 

Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig

I absolutely cannot wait to get back into my car and drive from Davenport, IA to East Moline, IL across the frozen tundra that is the Quad Cities. You might think I’ve lost my mind, and perhaps I have a little bit; but let me tell you that the Ali audiobook, narrated by Kevin R Free, and based on author Jonathan Eig’s “definitive biography” is absolutely stunning. Although my experience with audiobooks is relatively limited, I have to say this one makes me want to read all 623 pages of the biography. Free, who also considers himself a storyteller,  narrates the larger-than-life biography of Muhammed Ali (Cassius Clay) with conviction and eloquence, the perfect example of a well-executed audiobook and also a testament to author Eig’s finely-crafted prose.

Normally, it’s easy for me to snooze on audiobooks and lose focus in the middle of a chapter (or worse, a sentence). In fact, listening to audiobooks has proven to be an act of meditation: I’m consciously directing my attention to the narrator and, sometimes painfully attempting to stay focused on the developing story. Too often, like a child who loses interest in a new toy just moments after receiving it, I lose interest in the storyline unless the narrator is particularly emotive, funny, or engaging. But every chapter Free narrates makes me feel like I’m watching an award-winning film. The imagery, writing, and narration are that good. I’ve read a few reviews, and one commenter noted that he felt like he was “ringside” during the fight descriptions because the writing truly is that good.

Cassius Clay, who died in 2016 at the age of 74, endured 200,000 punches throughout his career. I cannot possibly conceive of what that would feel like. He was wildly inspired by Sugar Ray Robinson, a famous boxer well known for being particularly outlandish, flashy, and bold. Ali was single-mindedly focused on becoming the greatest boxer who ever lived; yet he was insanely complex as well as he came into his own in the context of segregation, The Blood of Emmett Till, and the Little Rock Nine. One might simply state that Ali was a fighter in every sense of the word: you can be sure he fought fiercely against racism and injustice that plagued the post-war United States.

I’m nowhere near finished with this book, but I can only imagine it gets better. Check out this article with Author Eig who concludes, after 500 hours of interviews with Ali that “no biography is complete. There’s always more to explore.” Here is what NPR , the Washington Post, and The New York Times had to say. Of course not all the reviews are shining. This particular article claims that Eig did not shed light on the last 30 or so years of Ali’s life and that the book provides “a somewhat perfunctory account of how his story fits into the larger arc of race in America.” As someone who is only about ten chapters in, I appreciated the historical backdrop that Eig establishes early on in the book; although it’s not like a few measly chapters could possibly address the terrible blight of racism on our collective history, so I will wait to see if maybe Eig delves more deeply into issues of race in America. One hopes that a “definitely” biography has earned its heavyweight title, just like the greatest boxer of all time.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

The topic of race relations is coming to a major forefront in young adult literature. (Not that it hasn’t always been present, but new books have been getting major press about it in recent months). One such book is Dear Martin by Nic Stone. Wanting to see how this book handled the topic and also having read and blogged about Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give in May 2017, I decided to see what direction Stone went.

Let’s start by talking about this book. Dear Martin by Nic Stone dives into the sticky world of race relations in America. Justyce McAllister is college-bound, hopefully, and finds himself torn between where he grew up and the school he now attends. A slew of other factors influence him: the fact that he’s on the debate team, his family, his friends, his teachers, his on-again/off-again girlfriend. All those factors dig at Justyce as he works to try to figure out what exactly he wants to get out of his life and what he feels he is entitled to in this life. Justyce is seventeen years old, the age when kids are told that they have to know what they want to do for the rest of their life. Picking a college, picking friends, picking a significant other, picking who you hang out with and what you do on a daily basis all directly influence your choices. All of those factors also directly influence how other people see you.  Struggling to deal with episodes of police brutality and racial profiling that directly affect him, Justyce decides to write letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a way to try to figure out what Martin would do in his situation (Hence the title Dr. Martin, pretty self-explanatory). Justyce’s life seems to get worse and worse. No matter how he tries to better himself, there seems to always be someone bent on knocking him to the ground.

Watching Justyce’s life unfold throughout his letters to Martin and through the snippets of his life that readers are privy to, we gain a better understanding of the rough dichotomy that Justyce finds himself in. He constantly is left to wonder where he actually fits in, who he should hang out with, and why his actions and people’s opinions of him seem to be at odds some days. I found myself rooting for Justyce throughout this book and hoping that his life would continue to get better.

First thought after finishing Dear Martin? Oh man, I wish this book was longer. There is so much content jam-packed in this book that at times I was hoping for the author to expand just a little more. That said, this book was powerfully written and deals with tricky subjects in a way that the intended audience, young adults and kids in high school, would easily understand and relate to. Even though I was not the intended audience, I found myself deeply involved in this book and wondering how everything would turn out. I would recommend this book, but with the caveat that you read The Hate U Give, as well. The two fit so well together.


This book is also available in the following format:

Every Boy Should Have a Man by Preston L. Allen

every boy should have a manTrying to put into words how I feel about Preston L. Allen’s Every Boy Should Have a Man isn’t easy.  I keep trying to avoid calling the book weird — as not to turn away potential readers — while still imparting the distinct oddness of this novel.  I want to explain how unnerving the novel can be at times, while making sure that I don’t forgot to tell you that the book was also subtly funny and  wickedly smart.  Part science-fiction, part allegory, part fairy tale, and part scripture, Allen has created a work of fiction that isn’t easy to pin down.  Allen deftly employs irony, playing with the reader’s perception of humanity and challenging the way we interact with the earth.

Every Boy Should Have a Man takes place in a world in which Oafs keep “mans” as both pets and as potential food.  In this land, a poor boy Oaf owns three mans throughout his life; something that is typically only a privilege of the wealthy.  Spanning the lifetime of the boy Oaf (and a short time following), the book examines what it means to be civilized through a lens of a long list of divisive subjects including war, racism, global warming, and the ethics of domesticating animals for pets and livestock.  To say that the novel is unique is an understatement, but there is evidence of a wide range of influences from Jack and the Beanstalk and Gulliver’s Travels to Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood.