History: Primary Sources

The Warren Commission Report is an awesome graphic novel!

I sat down to read The Warren Commission Report: A Graphic Investigation into the Kennedy Assassination, and finished it in one sitting. I loved it! I didn't know too much about the JFK assassination prior to reading this super-cool graphic novel, and it was so great to learn about it and its aftermath through Dan Mishkin's carefully chosen language and information, accompanied by the beautiful art of Ernie Colon and Ann Arbor resident Jerzy Drozd. This book details the events of the assassination itself, the findings of the Warren Commission, and explores the controversies and conspiracy theories that still surround the event. The book "speaks to theorists and skeptics alike, breaking down how decisions made in the days that followed the assassination not only shaped the way the commission reconstructed events, but also fostered the conspiracy theories that play a part in American politics to this day," reads the jacket, and I agree wholeheartedly. I appreciated that the book was not the least bit didactic, but simply well-researched and presented clearly and concisely.

If you're at all interested in learning more about the JFK assassination, I would highly recommend starting with this fantastic graphic novel.

Josephine Baker Biography

If Jacqueline Woodson’s award-winning memoir Brown Girl Dreaming has you craving more stories-in-verse that share the African-American experience, check out this fantastic title:

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Christian Robinson is picture-book biography of dancer Josephine Baker. Beginning with her childhood in the segregated South, the book traces her life as a teenager in a traveling dance troupe, her star-making Paris debut, her work as a spy during World War II, and her adoption of twelve children of different nationalities, always highlighting her desire for racial acceptance. With its bright, bold illustrations and free-verse text that mixes quotations from Baker with energetic narration, this 100-page picture book is a perfect showcase for the dancer’s story.

Jane Smiley's Some Luck depicts americana beautifully

If you’re a Jane Smiley fan like me, you’ve been eagerly awaiting the publication of her newest novel, Some Luck, which is the first in a projected trilogy appropriately titled The Last Hundred Years. Smiley won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Thousand Acres, and similar to A Thousand Acres, Some Luck follows several generations of a twentieth century Iowa farm family. The book is broken up into 34 brief chapters, each marked with the start of a year, beginning in 1920 and ending in 1953. As expected, some major life events are recounted over this period, but I enjoyed Smiley’s poignant telling of the day-to-day activities and situations that come together to create a family and a life. Because of this, the pace of Some Luck is truly unique: I found myself eagerly turning each page, not because of any unresolved plot lines, but rather because the book follows the unexpected pacing of life itself.

“Smiley depicts isolated farm life with such precision that readers can understand exactly how little boys help their father shorten lambs’ tails, and how Rosanna copes when she must deliver her baby alone,” states the review of Some Luck in the Washington Post. Some Luck is far from just another Midwestern nostalgic farm novel, however. “Smiley’s version is weirdly bold in a different way, stubbornly telling the story with the same kind of unadorned (and sometimes unspoken) language its characters use,” writes the review.

If you’re unfamiliar with Jane Smiley but enjoy the works of Marilynne Robinson and Annie Proulx, I would highly recommend giving Some Luck, and other of Smiley’s works a try. Early Warning, the second book in the trilogy, will be published in 2015.

Royal Reads (and movies, too!)

The recent release of a great new imperial biography, Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts, got me thinking that nothing could be more intriguing this wintry season than a little courtly intrigue! You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy stories about rulers of old. So, here are some suggestions for other books and movies that compliment each other nicely.

Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey offers a terribly readable and riveting account of Elizabeth I’s early years – a fascinating chapter of history with a totally astonishing young ruler at its helm. For a stunning film experience, try Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett and it’s sequel Elizabeth, The Golden Age.

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir, gives us a portrait of an educated, strong-willed ruler of her own lands as well as wife of two kings and a complicated family dynamic, to say the least. If you only have time for one film featuring this queen, The Lion in Winter is a must. With incredible performances from Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, this is a must regardless!

Turning to fiction books, why not try Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund – lush and yet attentive storytelling from the perspective of this most infamous of queens. The movie Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst offers eye candy galore in the form of sumptuous sets, costume, and cinematography, in addition to some experimental touches that keep things fresh. And, well, it’s hard to stick strictly to fiction here when the movie is based on such a good bio: Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser.

Last but definitely not least, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel chronicles the oh-so sticky politics of Henry VIII, seen through the sharp lens of his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. Mantel endows this narrator with a bitingly intelligent voice that is exceedingly refreshing in the genre. I'm coming up short on films focusing on Cromwell’s perspective, but Anne of the Thousand Days focuses on the Boleyn side of the story, and A Man for All Seasons highlights Sir Thomas More’s role in the courtly goings on (both of which feature heavily in Wolf Hall).

National Book Award Winner for Young People's Literature

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature at last night's awards ceremony. In the book the author shares her childhood memories and reveals the first sparks that ignited her writing career in free-verse poems about growing up in the North and South. The other finalists in this category were:

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Revolution: The Sixties Trilogy, Book Two by Deborah Wiles

See the full 2014 National Book Award list of winners in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. (And AADL's list of the titles in the catalog for quick hold placing!)

Surviving Hitler: A love story

Directed by John Keith Wasson, Surviving Hitler: A love story is an inspiring account of war, resistance, and survival in Nazi Germany. Jutta is a teenager in a country that is on the threshold of war when she discovers that she is Jewish. Struck by this discovery, and faced with the atrocities of war, she joins the German resistance and meets a wounded soldier named Helmuth. The two quickly form a romantic attachment and join the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler. Though there are tragic elements to the story (inevitable when it is set in Nazi Germany), there is a happy ending.

This film is a combination of interviews with Jutta and original 8mm footage shot by Helmuth. According to GQ magazine, these “home movies, which miraculously survived the war in Helmuth’s mother’s apartment, are reason enough to watch Surviving Hitler, providing a rare and intimate glimpse of relatively ordinary life carrying on in Berlin despite the encroaching horror.” (read the whole review here)

Surviving Hitler premiered at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and has won 3 awards including the Full Frame Inspiration Award, Ojai Festival Theme Award, and the Kroll Fund for Jewish Documentary Film.

British culinary history comes to life in Historic Heston

I was fascinated when I picked up the amazing new cookbook Historic Heston, by Heston Blumenthal. The book is a James Beard Award Winner for Cookbook of the Year 2014 and that prize was certainly well-deserved. In this fascinating tome, Blumenthal takes readers and chefs on a journey through the culinary history of Britain, from the middle ages all the way to modern day. “Alighting upon the most iconic and intriguing dishes, such as Meat Fruit, Powdered Duck, Tipsy Cake and Mock Turtle Soup, he delves into the story behind each one, before using them as inspiration for his own modern recipes,” reads the cover. I was particularly wonder-struck by the photography in the cookbook by Romas Foord: the image of a beautiful orange on one page is revealed to be constructed completely out of marzipan on the next. Later in the book, a close-up of meat stew is detailed enough to expose the individual spices in the broth. Seeing the ancient dishes as they would have been created in midieval times is a treat and Blumenthal’s adaptations to make them modern are completely usable. Historic Heston is truly a must-peruse for those interested in cooking, photography or British history.

Images of America: Downtown Ann Arbor

Wednesday December 17, 2014: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

Author Patti Smith will share stories and a slideshow of images from her new book, Images of America: Downtown Ann Arbor, which was released in early November. The book looks at the remarkable people and businesses who have helped build our town. Its images show a town with mud streets, wooden sidewalks, liveries, tanneries and telegraph offices. It also features businesspeople, merchants, and citizens who lived and worked in our downtown. Described as a "love letter to a beloved city", Images of America: Downtown Ann Arbor provides a look at the past and the people who helped to make Ann Arbor what it is today.

Author Patti Smith wanted to move to Ann Arbor since she was five years old, and is very grateful to live near downtown. She teaches special education and has recently finished writing a YA book. In addition to local history, Patti enjoys storytelling, social media, boxing, writing, and brewing beer. She lives in the Kerrytown area with her fiance, Ken, and their two cats.

Books will be available for sale and signing.

Four Perfect Pebbles: A Talk with Holocaust Survivor and Author Marion Blumenthal Lazan

Thursday February 12, 2015: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: 4th Floor Meeting Room

This event is intended for adults, teens and youth (grade 4 and up)

Author Marion Blumenthal Lazan will share her message of understanding and tolerance through recounting her experience as a young girl interned by the Nazis during WWII. Born in Germany, Lazan and her family were attempting to escape through Holland when the country fell to the Nazis. Her family spent more than six years imprisoned in various refugee and labor camps, including Bergen-Belsen. Shortly after their release, her father died of typhus contracted while in the camp. Three years later, at age 13, Lazan emigrated to the United States with her mother and sister, ready to start a new life in Illinois.

Lazan is the author of Four Perfect Pebbles, a memoir for young people about her family's struggle to survive the horrors of the Nazis. Copies of her book will be available for sale and signing.

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