Fireflies in December

Fireflies in December is the debut novel of Jennifer Erin Valent about a 13 year old girl, Jessilyn, and her parents taking in her best friend Gemma, after Gemma's parent were tragically killed in a house fire. The problem is, the year is 1932, Gemma is black, the Lassiters are white, and they live in a small Virginia town. Jessilyn is the character of dreams, taking cues from her father and speaking out against the threats coming from her small prejudiced community. The tone and speech in the novel take you to the south to a time where the people faced struggles not only from the Depression but from intolerance as well. The plot of this novel reminds readers of the evil that ordinary human beings are capable of doing, even in the name of righteousness. If you don't mind some moderate religious undertones, this book is heart-warming yet bittersweet and reminds us that even in the face of violence and terror, goodness can still surround us.

Happy Birthday Diane Arbus!

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March 14, 1923 was the birthday of one of my favorite photographers, Diane Arbus. Born in New York City, she ran a fashion photography studio with her husband for many years before starting the work which she is best known for - portraits of people outside of the mainstream, often on the fringes of society (think families, giants, creepy socialites, circus freaks, and normal people in unusual and/or disturbing situations). Here at the AADL we have several options for you to investigate the world of Diane Arbus. Check out Diane Arbus:Revelations for a hefty retrospective of her work. You can also try Untitled/Diane Arbus, Diane Arbus:Family Albums, Diane Arbus or Hubert's Freaks:the rare-book dealer, the Times Square talker, and the lost photos of Diane Arbus for a glimpse into her offbeat photography.
For a fictional account of Diane Arbus, check out the DVD Fur:An imaginary portrait of Diane Arbus, which stars Nicole Kidman as Arbus and is loosely based on Patricia Bosworth's Diane Arbus : A Biography.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #150

It is 1962, Jackson, Mississippi. 22 year-old Skeeter has a college degree but it worries her mother that she does not have a ring on her finger. Aibileen, a black maid, is heartsick over losing her son but no one could doubt her devotion to yet another white child she is raising. Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short and sassy, with a sharp tongue that gets her fired left and right. But boy, could she cook!

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk.

In pitch-perfect voices, debut novelist Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town; and the way women, mothers, daughters, caregivers, and friends view one another.

"A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't".

Happy Birthday Art Spiegelman!

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"Art Spiegelman... to the comics world is a Michelangelo and a Medici both, an influential artist who is also an impresario and an enabler of others." (The New York Times Magazine). Born February 15, 1948, Art Spiegelman is best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel Maus, based on his parents' survival of the Holocaust. If you have never read the Maus series, you should definitely add them to your "must read before I die" list. Spiegelman's hauntingly simple black and white drawings depict Jews as mice, Nazis as cats, Poles as pigs. If you think of graphic novels or comics as "fluff", Spiegelman's powerful work will change your mind.

Here at the AADL you can also find In the Shadow of No Towers, Spiegelman's account of life after the September 11th attacks (Spiegelman and his family bore witness to the attacks in their lower Manhattan neighborhood: his teenage daughter had started school directly below the towers days earlier, and they had lived in the area for years). We also have many other Spiegelman works like Breakdowns : Portrait of The Artist as a Young %@&*!, and the offbeat Little Lit : It Was a Dark and Silly Night for children, featuring comics by Lemony Snicket, William Joyce, and Neil Gaiman, to name just a few.

Happy Birthday Alice Walker!

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Happy Birthday to one of my favorite writers, Alice Walker. Born February 9, 1944, she is best known as the author of The Color Purple, which won her a Pulitzer Prize. A self-proclaimed "womanist", she is politically active in several different areas that often surface in her work: civil rights, the anti-nuclear movement, the environment, the women’s movement, and the movement to protect indigenous peoples. Her fight to end female circumcision in Africa is discussed in Warrior Marks : Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women, as well two of her fictional works The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy. Walker was the editor of I love myself when I am laughing ... and then again when I am looking mean and impressive : a Zora Neale Hurston reader and was instrumental in bringing Hurston's work back into print. She has published an impressive amount of her own work as well, including novels, short story collections, poetry, children's books, essays, and autobiographical reflections. Click here to watch Alice Walker share a poem she wrote to mark the inauguration of Barack Obama, and to see her speak with legendary 93-year-old civil rights activist and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #145

Fans of NPR-Books shouldn't miss first-novelist Jamie Ford's interview and discussion of his Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Set in Seattle 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, amidst mounting racial tension and the frenzy of Japanese Americans' relocation, is the heartwarming story of Henry Lee, his first love Keiko Okabe and their shared passion for jazz.

For a closer look at this chapter in our shared history, see the Manzanar Series - images captured by Ansel Adams. Readers might also try Sandra Dallas' Tallgrass, a vivid portrayal of life in the internment camps and how they, forever altered our cultural landscape.

Also recommended is Disappearing Moon Cafe by Sky Lee, "...a feisty, complex, and award-winning first novel" - an intimate look at the many facets of Chinatown USA.

Read more about Jamie Ford from his website and the Panama Hotel on which the title is based. For book groups, a discussion guide is available.

Quetzalcoatl, Venus, and 2012

While reading the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads book Seeing in the dark : how amateur astronomers are discovering the wonders of the universe by Timothy Ferris, I ran into a familiar character, Quetzalcoatl, a god associated with Venus. I first learned of Quetzalcoatl in Daniel Pinchbeck's 2012 : the return of Quetzalcoatl and Legends of the plumed serpent : biography of a Mexican god by Neil Baldwin.

Quetzalcoatl is described as a plumed serpent god of the Toltecs and Aztecs who is supposed to return with the planet Venus in 2012. In the 1500's the Mayans watched the skies and noted a relationship between the orbits of Earth and Venus as Mr. Ferris sums up: "once in every 52 years these two cycles synchronize with each other, whereupon Venus appears in the same spot in the sky, on the same date, that it did 52 years earlier". (page 90)

God is a pretty heavy topic but on the lighter side Quetzalcoatl catches the imagination...a god in the form of a snake with feathers...how cool is that? No offense Quetzalcoatl fans but I think Quetzalcoatl would make a great graphic novel character.

If you are interested in this type of thing you might enjoy reading about the expected galactic alignment in 2012. Check out John Major Jenkins "Galactic Alignment: The Transformation of Consciousness According to Mayan, Egyptian, and Vedic Traditions".

Youth interested in Quetzalcoatl may like:
Quetzal : sacred bird of the Cloud Forest by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.

The real Italian mafia

The non-fiction book, Gomorrah by Italian writer Roberto Saviano is an inside look into Italy's Neopolitan mafia families or Camorra. The book was first published in Italy in 2006 and was an immediate sensation. Unfortunately for Saviano that included death threats from the Camorra, a police escort, and eventually he was forced into hiding. The book is now an award winning film (Grand Prize winner at Cannes) and is nominated for best foreign film at the Golden Globes (to be announced 1/11/09). The movie merges 5 fictional storylines, one written by Saviano, with the facts behind the Camorra families of Naples, shot in a documentary style. If you like mob and real life crime drama, this may be the book to read and a film to look forward to seeing. You can read more about the book from the New York Times by clicking here. Read more about the movie here.

The Power of Community

When the world reaches peak oil, it will be an entirely new experience for us all with the exception of one small country. Cuba has already had a “peak oil” experience imposed on them, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early '80s. All their supplies of oil were cut off and they were thrust into a national emergency of food and energy shortages.

How they survived that period in their history and actually created new systems of efficient, sustainable energy and food production is the subject of The Power of Community. Forced to rediscover the bicycle for transportation; oxen and horses for farming; smaller-scale, organic farms and urban micro-farms for raising food; and neighborly cooperation for solving their crisis locally they have paved the way for thriving in the new era of oil scarcity and $4 dollar gallons of gas. A very inspiring and beautifully told story.

For a kick-start along the path of a less oil-dependent model for agriculture read about Community Supported Agriculture and urban gardening.

A New Peace Book for Young Children

Peace and forgiveness are woven into this beautiful new picture book, God's Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. All five of our copies are currently checked out, but five more are on the way, so I'm placing my hold now. The author was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his lifelong struggle to bring peace and justice to South Africa. He also served as Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 until 1996. Currently Tutu works with The Elders, an international group dedicated to ending conflicts and solving global problems. In October Tutu visited Ann Arbor and received the University of Michigan Wallenberg Medal. The Ann Arbor News report on his speech is here.

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