Polymath Edward Tufte once remarked that “the point of the essay is to change things”. With The Case for Reparations, scholar and author Ta-Nehisi Coates cleaves close to this ideal. Reminiscent of the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Coates has constructed an argument of tremendous factual and moral clarity, which coaxes our conscience towards conversation, nudging us towards that more perfect union.
To say that the piece resonated with readers after it appeared in The Atlantic is an understatement. Book stores quickly sold out of copies of the magazine. Online, the piece garnered more visits to The Atlantic Website in a single day, than any other article has, ever. I immediately pegged the writing as historically significant, and uber journalist Bill Moyers dubbed the work “a must read for every American”.
If you ask me, however, simply reading The Case for Reparations is selling it short, as Mr. Coates is clearly calling for dialogue. I’d like to think that The Monday Evening Book Group is well-suited for this sort of thing. In that spirit, here’s hoping that you’ll join me in honoring Mr. Coates’ request, when we gather on February 9, 2015 @ 6:30 in the Holden Room. As ever, copies of the work are available at any of the library’s numerous help desks.
October 19, 2015
The Telling Room
Author: Michael Paterniti
Non-Fiction: 349 pages
“The premise sounds far-fetched, even a little silly: While proofreading a deli catalog in Michigan, Michael Paterniti is bewitched by a description of cave-aged Spanish cheese; years later, disillusioned with modern life and his own “computer-soft hands,” he travels to its Spanish back-country source, where he becomes obsessed with its larger-than-life maker and his story of soul-stealing cheese-related betrayal…This transportive culinary memoir will launch a thousand gastronomical pilgrimages.”
“A gorgeous and impassioned monument to the art and mystery of storytelling, The Telling Room is rich, funny, humane, devastating, and beautiful. It made me want to applaud, it made me want to cry, it made me want to move to Spain. Michael Paterniti is a genius.”
November 16, 2015
The Light Between Oceans
Author: M. L. Stedman
Fiction: 345 pages
“Tom Sherbourne is a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a tiny island a half day’s boat journey from the coast of Western Australia. When a baby washes up in a rowboat, he and his young wife Isabel decide to raise the child as their own. The baby seems like a gift from God, and the couple’s reasoning for keeping her seduces the reader into entering the waters of treacherous morality even as Tom–whose moral code withstood the horrors of World War I–begins to waver. M. L. Stedman’s vivid characters and gorgeous descriptions of the solitude of Janus Rock and of the unpredictable Australian frontier create a perfect backdrop for the tale of longing, loss, and the overwhelming love for a child that is The Light Between Oceans.”
“An extraordinary and heart-rending book about good people, tragic decisions and the beauty found in each of them.”
December 21, 2015
The Boys in the Boat
Author: Daniel Brown
Non-Fiction: 404 pages
“The astonishing story of the UW’s 1936 eight-oar varsity crew and its rise from obscurity to fame,…The individual stories of these young men are almost as compelling as the rise of the team itself. Brown excels at weaving those stories with the larger narrative, all culminating in the 1936 Olympic Games…A story this breathtaking demands an equally compelling author, and Brown does not disappoint. The narrative rises inexorably, with the final 50 pages blurring by with white-knuckled suspense as these all-American underdogs pull off the unimaginable.”
July 20, 2015
Fried Green Tomatoes
Author: Fannie Flagg
Guest Moderator: Daryl Hilferty
Fiction: 403 pages
Overview: “Folksy and fresh, endearing and affecting, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is the now-classic novel of two women in the 1980s; of gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode telling her life story to Evelyn, who is in the sad slump of middle age. The tale she tells is also of two women–of the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth–who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, a Southern kind of Cafe Wobegon offering good barbecue and good coffee and all kinds of love and laughter, even an occasional murder. And as the past unfolds, the present–for Evelyn and for us–will never be quite the same again… ”
“Airplanes and television have removed the Threadgoodes from the Southern scene. Happily for us, Fannie Flagg has preserved a whole community of them in a richly comic, poignant narrative that records the exuberance of their lives, the sadness of their departure. Idgie Threadgoode is a true original: Huckleberry Finn would have tried to marry her!”
August 17, 2015
What’s the Economy for, Anyway?
Authors: de Graaf and Batker
Non-Fiction: 304 pages
Overview: ” In this funny, readable, and thought-provoking book, activists John de Graaf (coauthor of the bestselling Affluenza) and David Batker tackle thirteen economic issues, challenging the reader to consider the goal of our economy. Emphasizing powerful American ideals, including teamwork, pragmatism, and equality, de Graaf and Batker set forth a simple goal for any economic system: the greatest good for the greatest number over the longest run. Drawing from history and current enterprises, they show how the good life is achieved when people and markets work together with an active government to create a more perfect economy-one that works for everyone.”
“This book is an excellent contribution to our national discourse”
September 21, 2015
Author: Mary Beth Keane
Fiction: 320 pages
Overview: “*Starred Review* In this compelling historical novel, the infamous Typhoid Mary is given great depth and humanity by the gifted Keane (The Walking People, 2009). Irish immigrant Mary Mallon is eager to better her station in life and unafraid of hard work. When she is finally made a head cook, she is hired by some of the best families in Manhattan but unwittingly leaves a trail of disease in her wake. A “medical engineer” ultimately identifies her as a healthy carrier of typhoid fever and quarantines her on North Brother Island, where she is separated from her lifelong companion, Alfred Briehof, and forced to live in isolation. She is released three years later under the condition that she never cook again. But her inability to understand her condition, her passion for cooking, and the income she had become used to all conspire to lure her back into the kitchen. Keane not only makes of the headstrong Mary a sympathetic figure, she also brings the New York City of the early twentieth century to teeming life, sweeping readers into the crowded apartment buildings, filthy bars, and dangerous sweatshops of Upper Manhattan. Most movingly of all, she tells a great love story in depicting Mary and Alfred’s flawed but passionate relationship. A fascinating, often heartbreaking novel.”
“Like the silent carrier who is its heroine, this novel is so quietly assured that you won’t suspect it capable of transmitting such violence. It will seize you with its breathtaking intensity, its authority, and its beating heart.”
April 20, 2015
The Worst Hard Time
Author: Timothy Egan
Non-Fiction: 340 pages
“On April 14, 1935, the biggest dust storm on record descended over five states, from the Dakotas to Amarillo, Texas. People standing a few feet apart could not see each other; if they touched, they risked being knocked over by the static electricity that the dust created in the air. The Dust Bowl was the product of reckless, market-driven farming that had so abused the land that, when dry weather came, the wind lifted up millions of acres of topsoil and whipped it around in “black blizzards,” which blew as far east as New York. This ecological disaster rapidly disfigured whole communities. Egan’s portraits of the families who stayed behind are sobering and far less familiar than those of the “exodusters” who staggered out of the High Plains. He tells of towns depopulated to this day, a mother who watched her baby die of “dust pneumonia,” and farmers who gathered tumbleweed as food for their cattle and, eventually, for their children.”
–The New Yorker
“[A] fierce, humane account of the dreams and extremes that crashed head on during the nearly decade-long calamity of the Dust Bowl.”
–The New York Times
May 18, 2015
Author: Sinclair Lewis
Fiction: 451 pages
Overview: “Main Street, the story of an idealistic young woman’s attempts to reform her small town, brought Lewis immediate acclaim when it was published in 1920. It remains one of the essential texts of the American scene. Lewis Mumford observed: “In Main Street an American had at last written of our life with something of the intellectual rigor and critical detachment that had seemed so cruel and unjustified [in Charles Dickens and Matthew Arnold]. Young people had grown up in this environment, suffocated, stultified, helpless, but unable to find any reason for their spiritual discomfort. Mr. Lewis released them.”
June 15, 2015
The Reason I Jump
Author: Naoki Higashida
Non-Fiction: 176 pages
“This is a guide to what it feels like to be autistic. . . . In Mitchell and Yoshida’s translation, [Higashida] comes across as a thoughtful writer with a lucid simplicity that is both childlike and lyrical. . . . Higashida is living proof of something we should all remember: in every autistic child, however cut off and distant they may outwardly seem, there resides a warm, beating heart.” –Financial Times (UK)
January 12, 2015
In the Bleak Midwinter
Author: Julia Spencer-Fleming
Fiction: 308 pages
From the Back Cover: “Heavy Snow…Icy Desires…Cold-Blooded Murder
“Clare Fergusson, St. Alban’s new priest, fits like a square peg in the conservative Episcopal parish at Miller’s Kill, New York. She is not just a “lady,” she’s a tough ex Army chopper pilot, and nobody’s fool. Then a newborn infant left at the church door brings her together with the town’s police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, who’s also ex-Army and a cynical good shepherd for the stray sheep of his hometown. Their search for the baby’s mother quickly leads them into the secrets that shadow Miller’s Kill like the ever-present Adirondacks. What they discover is a world of trouble, an attraction to each other-and murder…”
February 9, 2015
The Case for Reparations
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Essay: 50 pages
The Case for Reparations was trumpeted well in advance of its publication via a most provocative trailer. It made its literary debut as the feature piece for the June 2014 issue of The Atlantic magazine. It blew me away shortly thereafter. The subtitle says it all. Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. Compelling, controversial, and certain to generate a memorable discussion. Let’s talk about it.
March 16, 2015
The Secret Daughter Project
Author: June Cross
Non-Fiction: 304 pages
Author: Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Fiction: 346 pages
The writing is on the wall. The Monday Evening Book Group is breaking new ground, embracing intellectual terra incognito. An experiment in form has been proposed. Two authors and two tales. Fact and fiction. A shared title, similar themes, and a discussion group divided. Physical copies of the works and dossiers assigned by pure chance. Won’t you please join us for a literary lab moderated by Annette Newcomb?
I often wonder if the present era will someday be known as the age of the acronym, the fertile crux of a terse new lingo. Examples abound, with LOL, FAQ, and NSA coming immediately to mind. BTW, in my estimation, DNA is the reigning regent of this avalanche of abbreviation. I mean, we’re talking about nothing less than the blueprint of life as we know it. On the other hand, despite its centrality to our existence, to most the molecule is more than a bit mysterious, a nebulous notion at best.
Sam Kean’s The Violinist’s Thumb is a most satisfactory solution to this dilemma, in that it manages to both edify and entertain. On May 19, 2014, won’t you please don your thinking cap, and join what promises to be a lively discussion of Mr. Kean’s tasty text. And finally, please find words of the wise below.
“…Kean has created another page-turning scientific history in The Violinist’s Thumb. With fluid gusto, he turns the discovery of DNA into riveting human drama, then unfurls a series of anecdotes that expand our understanding of genetic influence on our lives…” –Amazon
“A science journalist with a flair for words…[Kean’s] language is fluid and accessible, even for the science-challenged.” –Library Journal
WHO: I discovered Vaclav Smil’s work while perusing a recent issue of Wired Magazine. More specifically, an article titled This Is the Man Bill Gates Thinks You Absolutely Should Be Reading, and if you call yourself an environmentalist, then you really ought to check out his written work.
WHAT: In this case, the work in question bears the moniker Energy: Myths and Realities, is subtitled Brining Science to the Energy Policy Debate, and the two sum up the work in fine fashion.
WHEN: In the interest of being well informed, it is suggested that you ought to read this tech-toned-treatise as soon as possible.
WHY: As in why you should most definitely read this book. In Mr. Smil’s own words:
“If a global civilization is to commit trillions of dollars over the course of many decades to improve the odds of it’s to its stable existence, then it should follow the most rational, most economically rewarding, and least environmentally stressful course rather than pursuing inherently inferior alternatives.”
WHERE: At your local Southern Adirondack Library System branch.
HOW: Click the link to order a copy of Energy: Myths and Realities, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an energy policy wonk.