Fabulous Fiction Firsts #195

While friendship stories are commonplace in women's fiction, one that depicts 4 slave women set in the mid -1850s is still a rarity.

Wench* traces the friendship between Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu at an Ohio resort where Southern men bring their slave women. Over the course of three summers, these women came together to bare their souls, contemplate their future and support each other through sorrows and occasional joy.

First-time novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez draws on research about the resort that eventually became the first black college Wilberforce University for the setting while she explores the complexities of relationships between these women and their white owners.

"Compelling and unsentimental", "heart-wrenching, intriguing, original and suspenseful, this novel showcases Perkins-Valdez's ability to bring the unfortunate past to life". ~Publishers Weekly. A good readalike for Cane River by Lalita Tademy.

For further reading on women in slavery, we suggest: Ar'n't I a Woman? : Female slaves in the Plantation South by Deborah Gray White and Labor of love, Labor of Sorrow : Black women, work, and the family from slavery to the present by Jacqueline Jones.

* = Starred review

Filing for Bankruptcy

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Whether a major medical event, loss of a job or a house sunk you, bankruptcy won’t be a shining moment in your life, but it is an opportunity to get your financial life back on track. Not much free legal help is available in Washtenaw County so it is important to know as much as possible about the process and that is where the Ann Arbor District Library is a real help.
The library has a large selection of up-to-date books on the topic that you can find here: Bankruptcy
The library also has books that give great advice on how to proceed after bankruptcy that you can find here: Credit Repair
In order to file you have to pay your attorney up front, so if you are receiving a tax return soon, this could be a very good time to plan your strategy.
It is never easy to admit defeat. Just know that you have now joined a select club that includes Francis Ford Coppola, Walt Disney, Mark Twain, Wayne Newton and Donald Trump. Except for Trump's hair, they all ended up doing better than ok!

Youth Nonfiction Finds -- Special Edition: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day when we should look forward and backward -- backward into history to appreciate how far we have come as a country and the hard work of those who brought us here, and forward to the challenges we still have to face in order to bring about true equality. Here are some good books to help you get a good understanding of the history of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King Jr.:

Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.? provides a concise biography of its titular subject and background on the issues underlying the Civil Rights Movement, such as Jim Crow Laws and the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision. My Brother Martin, written by Christine King Farris, tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr.'s childhood, for a more human picture of the great man. Did you know that he was quite the prankster as a child? I Have a Dream presents Dr. King's famous speech in manageable bites, accompanied by evocative illustrations.

For those who want to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement itself, Nobody Gonna Turn Me 'Round presents a very understandable, illustrated history of the major events of the movement. A Dream of Freedom provides a more in-depth look at the issues, from Emancipation to the Black Panther Party. In Freedom's Children activists like Claudette Colvin and Ruby Bridges share their experiences of growing up during those tumultuous times. Finally, The Civil Rights Movement for Kids combines history with activities, like skits, songs, speeches and even recipes, to really bring history home.

Intriguingly Factual Reads on the Hot- and Blue-Blooded

These are not your high school history teacher's textbooks.

Sex with the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics, and its male consort Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge, are both written by a namesake descendant of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Eleanor Herman.

In these two luscious books, Herman outlines the auspicious--and more often ominous--adulteries of European royalty, from the middle ages up until the modern Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

As you might expect, they cover many subjects not often touched by history teachers. But, probably for that reason, they are entertaining while still being factually correct. Perhaps a guilty pleasure to read, you will nevertheless be assured that they are not simply fabricated for your enjoyment.

The two books offer intriguing insight into the act of adultery among nobility--its origins and outcomes--with a pinch of feminism and a heaping spoonful of wit. Herman explains not only political and social risings among the mistresses and lovers of kings and queens, but also the fashions and foods inspired by them. They cover nearly all of Europe, from Britain and France to the cold reaches of Russia, and they span from five to nine decades.

She also offers a book on a papal puppetry by a woman, called Mistress Of The Vatican: the True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini, the Secret Female Pope, which Publisher's Weekly called "a window into an age of empire, nepotism and intrigue that rivals any novel for fascinating reading."

If you're looking for a painstakingly-researched read that delves into social and political history, but don't want to be reading yourself to sleep, take a look at these.

You must read Zeitoun!!

If you haven't added Zeitoun by Dave Eggers to your must-read list, please do so immediately. This amazing piece of non-fiction made me laugh, cry, shake with rage, smile with triumph, and recoil in horror and disbelief. For me, it was definitely the best book I have read this year.

After copious research, Eggers shares the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-born painting contractor, who decided to stay in his New Orleans home during Hurricane Katrina while his wife Kathy and their family fled. Egger's text, simple yet incredibly eloquent, recounts Zeitoun's experiences in such a riveting way, I often forgot that it wasn't Zeitoun himself telling his story. He describes the water filling the city, when the levees first broke, as beautiful and crystal clear, giving everything a surreal, sparkly, otherworldly quality. You, the reader, can easily imagine the scene of him paddling around the city in his canoe, rescuing neighbors and feeding stranded pets. Zeitoun's story takes a horrifying and heart-breaking turn when he is arrested, accused of being a member of Al Qaeda, and thrown into an injust Bush administration/bureaucratic nightmare. The ending of this book kept me up late into the night, unable to go to sleep until I found out what happened to Zeitoun and his frantic family. Out of one family's tragedy does come something positive: Proceeds from the sale of this book go towards supporting the Zeitoun Foundation, formed in 2009 by the Zeitoun family, Dave Eggers, and McSweeney's.

National Outburst Week

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Congressman Joe Wilson, Serena Williams and Kanye West bestowed upon the world the first National Outburst Week, as treating people with dignity and respect seems to have gone out the window. It is a major concern of our time, both in private and work life. A recent book, The Cost of Bad Behavior by Christine Pearson, delves into this timely issue by trying to quantify the effects of rude, uncivilized behavior in the workplace. Just what happens when you’ve been verbally assaulted by a coworker or a customer, tried to communicate with someone while they are texting, or made to feel left out of the loop during a team project? It can cause stress, health problems and weakened commitment.

Pearson looks at companies with strong leadership that implemented policies designed to create an environment where civilized behavior, dignity and respect are taken very seriously. And guess what? When the talk is walked from the top down companies can quantify the positive effects to their bottom line. Three cheers for dignity and respect!!!

Pioneer for peace and social justice

Today, September 6, is the birthday of social reformer Jane Addams, who was born in Cedarville, Illinois in 1860. On a trip to Europe, she visited a settlement house in London where more well-to-do people lived with residents in a poor neighborhood. This new way of helping the poor impressed Addams so much that on her return, she leased a large house in a low income area in Chicago and established Hull House which still exists today. In less than two years, over 2,000 people had visited Hull House and many used their services which eventually included not only child and health care but also a kindergarten, a social club for older kids, an art gallery, gym, library and labor museum.

Addams was also a champion for women's rights and peace, opposing the U.S. entrance into World War I. She founded what later became the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. One of their missions was to establish, in conjunction with The Jane Addams Peace Association a children's book award for a book that exemplifies Addams's ideals of international peace and justice. One of the winners of the 2009 award is Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire A. Nivola. Addams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Rockin' and Readin' with LaRon Williams

What a learning fest, when Storyteller LaRon Williams talked about Juneteenth and racial history at our Traverwood branch last night! I knew his reputation--but had not actually watched him spin history and tales. Lucky me, and lucky all of us, because not only did Williams give a great show, he also shared a reading list on racial hierarchy and transcending prejudice. Prominent is Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, the 2004 Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Reads book. Other titles include “Every Day Anti-Racism,” by Mica Pollock and The Color of Wealth.

Toasting wine for everyone

If like me, you are fascinated by wine and attitudes surrounding it, be sure to come hear International Wine Judge Ron Sober discuss wine snobbery and why it's not necessary, on June 18 from 7-8:30 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the downtown library. Beforehand you may want to read up on wine snobbery, in one of many fine wine books at the library.

Michael Vick to Work with Humane Society on Teen Dogfight Prevention

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Michael Vick, convicted, bankrupted, and imprisoned because of his dogfighting business, left prison before dawn this Wednesday morning. He returned to VA to serve the last portion of his sentence under house arrest. His plans after his official July 20th release include a return to NFL play, as well as participating in a partnership with the Humane Society. The partnership would target teen involvement with dogfighting. I wonder if he'll also adopt a rescued dog as a companion animal? For some entertaining and heartwarming stories about rescued and rehabilitated dogs (including an episode about the Vick dogs), check out this great National Geographic mini-series. Try Dogtown: New Beginnings and then there's more quality doggie time to be had with Dogtown: Second Chances. The library also has a great selection of books on how to retrain and help your own adopted dog adjust to his or her new life with you.

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