One Read, the community-wide reading program coordinated by the Daniel Boone Regional Library, celebrates its 20th anniversary this September with Casy Cep’s “Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee.” This gripping mashup of true crime and literary biography beat out the cleverly crafted dystopian novel “The Resisters” by Gish Jen.
Before the public vote on the 2021 title, a panel of community members considered a varied list of finalist books. Their themes run the gamut of timely topics from immunization and mental health to systemic racism and capitalist consumerism.
During COVID lockdowns, many of us spent more hours connected to the internet, scrolling, shopping and watching. In “Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion,” Jia Tolentino shares candid, sharp, sometimes wry, often bleak personal essays examining and skewering our self-obsessed consumer culture and the pressures — particularly for women — of living online.
Vaccines are likewise top-of-mind as we begin to emerge from our pandemic year. Eula Biss examines with great empathy and an historic lens the reasons for vaccine anxiety in “On Immunity: An Inoculation.” She makes a compelling argument for our mutual responsibility to protect one another.
Susannah Cahalan also pens an argument for protecting the vulnerable in “The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness.” Through unflinching and dogged research, Cahalan calls into question the veracity of psychologist David Rosenhan’s 1973 seminal study “On Being Sane in Insane Places,” based on the experiences of pseudo-patients infiltrating psychiatric hospitals. This study catalyzed the revamping of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM) and the closure of many mental institutions, and it cast doubt on a field still struggling with proper diagnosis and treatment of people with mental illness.
Impassioned and comprehensive, “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein describes how governments at all levels systematically imposed residential segregation. Tools both sharp and blunt divided Black and white: the creation of public housing that separated previously mixed communities, blatant racial zoning, incentives for builders to create whites-only developments, subprime loans, support for violent resistance to Black families in white neighborhoods and more. Rothstein shines a bright light on how these tactics echo through the decades and continue to impact communities of color.
Racial discrimination is also at the heart of “The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead. At once beautifully crafted and devastating, this novel tells the story of two Black teens at an abusive reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida. Idealistic Elwood and jaded Turner form an unlikely friendship and move from merely trying to survive, to attempting to expose the truth about the abusive and sometimes deadly institution.
From exploration of facets of our past and present we move to two novels that investigate dystopian futures. “The Warehouse” by Rob Hart describes an Amazon-like corporation called Cloud that has taken over nearly all aspects of American life in a world characterized by violence, unemployment and climate change. Two employees with wildly different motivations for working at Cloud discover the company’s true agenda in this sci-fi thriller. Climate change and Old Testament references inform “A Children’s Bible” by Lydia Millet. A group of strangely mature children, stuck in a sprawling vacation rental with their boozy and neglectful parents, run away and face rising sea levels, violent storms and the resulting chaos mostly on their own, attempting to clean up the mess prior generations have left them.
Finally, we have the achingly beautiful father and son novel “Medicine Walk” by Richard Wagamese, a moving examination of manhood set in British Columbia. 16-year-old Franklin Starlight is called to visit his father, Eldon, who is largely a stranger to him. Eldon is dying of liver failure after years of excessive drinking and asks his son to take him into the mountains, so he may be buried “in the warrior way.”
Join the library and the One Read Task Force in September as we explore the topics and themes in “Furious Hours” through art, discussions, films, presentations and more. Visit www.oneread.org later this summer for details.