Thursday, April 26, 2018

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

I love when books surprise me.  I ordered Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O'Connor, mostly because it was a juvenile fiction book about the Vietnam War.  When it arrived, I was intrigued and set out to read it right away. 

Written in the form of letters between 11 year old Reenie Kelly and Mr. Marsworth, the town recluse, this book is full of the innocence of childhood summers, and the loss of that innocence set against the back drop of the Vietnam War.

We come to learn that Mr. Marsworth is a pacifist, and his opposition to the draft have left him ostracized by the community.  Reenie is looking for ways to prevent her 18 year old brother from being drafted.

It's rare that books make me cry, but this one had me crying multiple times, as we are drawn in to Reenie's adventures and her devotion to family. 

It is a wonderful book I recommend to a reader of any age. 

But I also realized I haven't read much about the Vietnam War, nor do I know much about it.  In school and even in college we learned the Revolution, Civil War, and World Wars, but never seemed to get to Vietnam.

I have read The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, Fallen Angelsby Walter Dean Myers, and ...And a Hard Rain Fell by John Ketwig.  But this was the first book that I have read from the point of view of the families left behind and those opposing the war at home.

This has inspired me to learn more about this era, and seek out related books. And to me, that is the mark of a truly remarkable book- one that leads you to learn more, that you won't soon forget, and leaves you moved.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Sing, Unburied, Sing

This novel by Jesmyn Ward is a wonderful blend of reality and Lincoln-in-the-Bardo-ish spirituality.  The story is about families: the daughter of a black family is involved with the son of a white family in modern day Mississippi, and between the two of them they make a third family.  The language is beautiful, " flowers, ushering forth sweetness from fruit," and evocative, "He's been orbiting her [his dying wife] like a moon, sleeping on the sofa with his back to the door, searching the yard and woods for pens and bins and machines to fix so he can repair in the face of what he cannot."

There is a lot of sorrow and ugliness in the story, but the end is so unexpected, so full of imagery, that I ended up feeling a lightness (as well as thinking, so THAT'S what the title means).

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

This nonfiction account by journalist Kim Barker takes place in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2004-09.  Some nonfiction can be pretty dry; this is anything but.  I listened to the audiobook and it was a hoot!  Between the reader's expert inflections and the author's dry wit, I found myself laughing as I wended my way to Wegman's on Saturday.  Barker is a serious student of the absurd.

Aside from deftly explaining the often utterly confusing politics of the region, Barker gives the reader a sense of what it's like to live in a war zone, something most of us Americans know nothing about.  She describes how she and her fellow journalists got a high from the danger, some of them deliberately seeking seriously unstable situations and barely making it out alive. 

If you ever wondered where the Taliban came from, and why Afghanistan has been at war for so long, this book helps you to understand the country's history and why, incidentally, our attempts to "fix" things over there are not working. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Graphic Novels...for adults?

When I suggest graphic novels, most adult think of the superheroes created by Marvel and DC Comics.  They imagine young boys reading graphic novels and their parents complaining, "Why can't they read real books?!"  But graphic novels are real books.  There are many articles that document how graphic novels are great for kids, improving language, vocabulary, reinforcing text with images for greater comprehension. 

But there are great graphic novels for adults, too! Especially if you are short on time.

Recently, Americus by MK Reed was recommended to us.  Here is the synopsis from Amazon: "Neal Barton just wants to read in peace. Unluckily for him, some local Christian activists are trying to get his favorite fantasy series banned from the Americus public library on grounds of immoral content and heresy. Something has to be done, and it looks like quiet, shy Neal is going to have to do it. With youth services librarian Charlotte Murphy at his back, Neal finds himself leading the charge to defend the mega-bestselling fantasy series that makes his life worth living."

Despite one image of the librarian reading at the desk reinforcing the stereotype that librarians do nothing but read, this book was fantastic! This is the fight for intellectual freedom and normal teenage life in a graphic novel.  

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a coming-of-age story set in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.  Similar to Americus, this book sets normal adolescent trials against a larger political landscape. 

Derf Backderf has two great graphic novels, My Friend Dahmer, about his experience as a classmate of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and Trashed.  (My Friend Dahmer was recently made into a movie to be released later this year.)  But, I want to talk about Trashed.  Fresh out of high school with few prospects, Derf takes a job as a trash collector.  Not only does this give a first hand account of a job few would love, but a necessary one, but it also takes a look at the amount of trash American's create and what happens to our trash after we set it out on the curb. You will learn about the history of the garbage truck, how landfills are created, and what happens once landfills are full.  It will definitely give you an appreciation for our trash collectors and will make you think about how your own lifestyle contributes to the incredible amount of trash that we must deal with each year.

These are excellent books, that just might change your mind about graphic novels.