Do you still have some unchecked boxes on the 2018 Read Harder Challenge? So do I. If you, like I, feel a deep obligation to fulfill all commitments no matter how minor, you’re probably experiencing a bit of stress at the moment. Never fear. I’m here to help, assuming the help you need consists of some written words about colonial or postcolonial literature.
First published in 1958, “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe is widely considered a classic of world literature and appears on the Great American Read list of America’s 100 most-loved books. The first book of a trilogy, it tells the story of a Nigerian man, Okonkwo, tracing his rise to power and subsequent fall during a time of increasing British colonization. Though I know this is not a consideration at all (wink, wink) as we draw nearer the deadline, it’s only 209 pages. Continue reading “Colonial or Post-colonial Literature: Read Harder 2018”
Growing up, I didn’t go to summer camp. Most days, my mom simply sent us kids outside to play. I spent many hours at hopscotch and jump rope with neighborhood kids who also had been turned out of their homes for a few hours. I was vaguely aware of a place called summer camp. It seemed to me something like Camelot, a land of adventure and merriment in a faraway time and place.
As an adult, I think the idea of summer camp sounds pretty fun and wonder why it should be an experience only for kids. Who’s with me? I see lots of hands going up out there. Whether you find yourself longing to recreate the wonder of your own childhood summer camp memories, or aching to fill a hole in your life that was caused by camp deprivation, your library is here to help. Continue reading “Adult Summer Camp: Design Your Own Adventure”
A boy with thick glasses sits cross-legged, reading a book, as a different boy walks by accompanied by his father. “You know what we do to nerds, right?” the father asks. His son grins. “Yeah. Learn from them!”
The scene described is a sequence in the “Lunarbaboon” webcomic. Lunarbaboon is half human and half moon monkey, but the situations he encounters as a father seem entirely human. Author Chris Grady has a knack for taking some of our more undesirable social conventions and turning them on their heads. In one cartoon, the father offers to teach his son some “sweet moves” with the ladies. The “moves” turn out to involve listening and showing respect. After a number of years of internet popularity, Grady’s cartoons are now available in book form. “Lunarbaboon: the Daily Life of Parenthood” was published last year. Continue reading “Father’s Day Reads”
It’s an exciting evening for pre-history buffs, as they flock to a 3-D screening of the movie “Pangea: the Biggest Breakup in History.” The event has been organized by a local scientist, Dr. Viola Figueroa. Unfortunately, she is unable to attend, having taken ill. In her place, she has sent her nephew Alfredo. He arrives at the last minute, flustered, clutching a list of written instructions that he has not yet had time to read.
As the lights dim and the movie begins, a narrator’s voice says, “Prepare to journey more than 250 million years into the past, to a time when the earth contained only one supercontinent, known as Pangea.” Dozens of large dragonflies dart right out of the screen and the audience gasps in amazement at the realistic effects.
A buzz of cicadas fills the air, while huge ferny plants appear all around. Audience members realize they are no longer in theater seats, but rather are perched on rocks or sitting flat on the ground. Colorful beetles scurry about, and in the distance a lizard-like animal with a fin on its back lumbers between the trees. This is no mere movie. Continue reading “Escape Room: Breaking Up Pangea”
It’s May, the season for flowers, graduations and assessing your progress on the Read Harder Challenge. I’m sure there are a handful of overachievers who have zipped through all 24 categories on the checklist already. The rest of us, however, still have several titles to curate. Here are a few suggestions for challenge number three — a classic of genre fiction.
Science Fiction: Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” has also been published under the title “Blade Runner.” It has inspired a movie, a TV show and a series of graphic novels. The novel is an android-filled contemplation on the nature of consciousness. Sort of. Any androids reading this? If you were an android, would you know?
“The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin is a book about walls: physical, psychological and social. The story begins with a physicist crossing a wall that contains the only “no trespassing” sign on his entire planet. Le Guin’s science fiction has space ships and cool technology, but it’s less about the wow factor of the technology than about its effect on societies and individuals. Continue reading “Classics of Genre Fiction: Read Harder 2018”
The fate of displaced children is the central concern of many books published in the past few years. The practice of adoption, as we think of it today, with background checks and safeguards, has not always been the standard. In 1853, distressed by the number of street children he encountered in New York, Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society. From 1854 to 1929, the program put homeless children on “orphan trains” headed west for placement with families across the country. Though the intention was good, there was little investigation of adoptive households. Some children landed with nurturing parents, but others were used only as free labor for farms or sweatshops.
Christina Baker Kline addresses the plight of these children in her novel “Orphan Train.” The narrative interweaves two timelines and character stories. Molly, a teenager in foster care, is working off community service hours by helping the elderly Vivian get her house and attic in order, sorting through a lifetime of possessions. While they discuss the history of the keepsakes, Vivian tells of her childhood experiences as an Irish immigrant and orphan train rider. Continue reading “Literary Links: Orphans and Orphan Trains”
Dr. Viola Figueroa, a brilliant scientist and avid history buff, has gone missing. She had just taken over as chair of the local history club’s Committee on the 1980s when she vanished. She’d spoken of a secret project, one she said would “make history something we can experience first-hand.” Her nephew, Alfredo, has convinced a few club members to investigate. They begin at the library where Dr. Figueroa conducted much of her research. Continue reading “Escape Room: Trapped in the 1980s!”
When my son was five, we gave him an allowance of 50 cents per week. Usually, he took his two quarters and put them in his Thomas the Tank Engine bank with all of the other coins he’d been given during his short life. There was never anything he wanted to buy. But one day when we were taking our cat to the vet, my son insisted on carrying his life savings along with him, stating he had something important to do with it. He remembered from a previous visit that our vet’s office kept a donation box in the waiting room to collect funds for a local animal shelter. He gave all of his money to help the homeless animals.
It’s a fundamental part of human nature to want to help those in need. That’s not just the view through my rose-colored glasses. There’s been research on the subject. Stefan Klein gathers and discusses much of this research in his book, “Survival of the Nicest.” He makes a case for altruism as the key to the survival of the human race. “The Giving Way to Happiness” by Jenny Santi shows that the act of giving has as many benefits for the giver as for the recipient. And Edgar Schein examines how to make sure efforts to help have the intended effect in his book “Helping: How to Offer, Give and Receive Help.” Continue reading “Giving Tuesday”
50,000 can be a daunting number, but I’m here to bear witness that it can also be an achievable number. Last year, for the first time, I successfully crossed the National Novel Writing Month finish line, pounding out 50,000 words worth of original writing during the month of November. I followed that up with securing a lucrative publishing contract and a nationwide speaking tour. Okay, the previous sentence was fiction. What I did gain was a sense of accomplishment, greater confidence in my writing abilities and the sense that doing a big thing is possible if you devote yourself to it regularly. Continue reading “Writers, Start Your Engines: National Novel Writing Month”
On September 18, 1937, the world was introduced to Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The world didn’t pay adequate attention, and the title went out of print for years. A 1978 reprinting brought the book recognition as an American classic. Alice Walker and Zadie Smith both cite Hurston as an influence.
Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida, a town established and run by African Americans. It serves as setting for much of her novel. She went to New York for an anthropology degree from Barnard College and stayed for the Harlem Renaissance, with trips back to the south for story collection and research.