This month I could not decide on just one book. Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary, by Elizabeth Partridge and We’ve Got A Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, by Cynthia Levison, work together to tell the story of young peoples’ role in the civil rights movement in America. Both Levison and Partridge use photographs, quotes and original text to show how children stood up alongside, and sometimes in the place of, adults. Children stood up to brutality and hatred with peace and perseverance. Many were beaten and jailed and came back the next day to march again. In times of unrest, children show a keen sense of justice. Both these books do justice to the sacrifices and contributions of countless children. Read them together or by themselves, and share them with the young people in your lives, as beacons of hope and inspiration.
Author Nick Ripatrazone recently recalled some sage advice, given to him by a writing professor when he was worrying over writing. His teacher wrote to him, simply: Worrying isn’t work. This advice—I note a little ruefully, thinking of some recent worry-warted days—seems widely applicable, above and beyond a writing life. Even just shovel your neighbor’s driveway, a friend said the other day, and chat with them this winter. The spectrum for good and thoughtful work, for reaching out, happily, is huge. You can go small. You can go really, really big. I’d love to shout out to the Maine Public Radio’s Voices of Giving series this month, which has been warming my commute with wonderful stories of local people helping out others here in Maine- seeing a need and working to fill that need. And from the library’s collections? I’ll pick Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History…and Our Future! This beautiful book is powerful and inspiring. Written for youth, featuring brief bios of “agents of change of all kinds,” it shares an alphabet of awesome women who have worked hard in our country. The cut-paper illustrations by Miriam Klein Stahl are bold and active, and each woman—activists, artists, authors, such as Dolores Huerta, Wilma Mankiller, Kate Bornstein, Maya Lin—shines on her page in brilliant black lines and rich color. All the reviewers seem to like the entry for the letter “X,” and I do, too. (See book for details). I plan to pick up a copy of Rad American Women A-Z for my nephews this winter; I’m gladdened by the thought of them growing up in a world where their E stands for Ella Baker, their P for Patti Smith, and their Z for Zora Neale Hurston.
I think one of the most heartening things we can do when our future is uncertain and precarious is to take a moment to engage with our past. These documentaries both serve as necessary reminders of the collective power of people and the incredible potential of strong, united communities. Angela Davis’s words ring especially true these days: Freedom is a constant struggle.
The documentary Lizzie Velasquez: A Brave Heart is the story of Lizzie Velasquez, a motivational speaker and anti-bullying activist. The documentary begins with Lizzie reflecting on her childhood. Lizzie was born with a rare disorder that makes her unable to gain weight. Growing up Lizzie experienced bullying for looking different. She struggled to fit in, but eventually won over many of her classmates. She became an active member of her school. Her life seemed to improve, but then in high school she discovered a terrible YouTube video that would change her life. Someone created a video with Lizzie’s picture titled “World’s Ugliest Woman.” It was filled with hateful comments. Lizzie was devastated, but with the love and support of her family she decided to start speaking out against bullying. The film discusses her journey to becoming a motivational speaker and anti-bullying activist, and then ends with Lizzie traveling to Washington DC to lobby for anti-bullying legislation. The documentary is inspirational, and shows how one person can take personal heartache and turn it into the strength and courage to fight bullying, and to change the world for the better.
“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
After reading an interview with Bryan Stevenson in the New Yorker I decided to finally read Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, which had been sitting on my nightstand for months. (The thing with buying a book is that there is no due date, so those book languish more than my library books).
Once I started Just Mercy, I couldn’t put it down. Stevenson is an incredible civil rights lawyer but also an incredible writer. He is able to tell these true stories from his clients, all them heart-wrenching, with grace. The stories about children on death row were the hardest to read. Antonio Nuñez, for instance, became the only child in the country known to be sentenced to die in prison for his involvement, at age 14, in a single incident where no one was injured. The collection is an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.
Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he didn’t commit. The book alternates chapters between Walter’s case and several of Stevenson’s other prominent cases. It highlights his personal journey, but at its heart it is about the flaws in America’s criminal justice system.
This is an important work which recommended for any individual concerned with the concepts of justice, compassion, and mercy. If you read Just Mercy and want more by Stevenson, you could watch his Ted Talk or learn more about the work he does with the Equal Justice Initiative.
As founder of The GW Lincoln Society, I think it especially fitting to share the wise words of President Lincoln this month, since he is largely responsible for instituting a nation-wide day of Thanksgiving, which, 153 years after his proclamation, we will celebrate once again this week.
Take time with his words and the story of his life. They will give you hope and inspiration. They will remind you of the power of principle, sacrifice and perseverance.
I close with the lyrical coda of his first Inaugural Address:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Choose Civility is a PPL initiative that focuses on promoting civil discourse and civic engagement in our community. In addition to reading items from this collection, we hope you will join us for upcoming programs and community conversation. To stay in the loop, please sign up for our CC newsletter.
There’s a chill in the air. Time to load up on books! (Which, we confess, we would do whatever the weather). Here are some selections of fiction and nonfiction that our staff members have recently read and recommend.
I read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel several months ago and I just can’t stop thinking about it. I usually read classic and modern scholarly literature, never post apocalyptic dystopian science fiction (is that one genre or four?). But I am so glad that my book club talked me into veering off of my usual path and taking a chance on this one! It has it all – well-developed characters, a plot that keeps you glued to the pages, a little bit of mystery, and an ending that makes you want to know more. It’s also filled with beautifully painted imagery and a sense of place and time that make it seem so real. It is a true literary work. I haven’t heard any rumors of Mandel’s next book, but I am keeping my ear to the ground and will order many copies for PPL as soon as I hear anything.
A book I really loved that I just finished is The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell. It takes place in part during the Japanese invasion of Shanghai. That piece of history was fascinating. The father was a complex character, and the way that played out over the years and his effect on his family was a compelling narrative. When I tell people about this book, they suggest that I see the movie, Empire of the Sun.
My pick is The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J.Church. It traces the story of Meridian, a bright ornithology major, who marries a brilliant, older physics professor, Alden, and follows him to Los Alamos, New Mexico. You can guess what he’s working on there during the 40’s, but the value of this story is it presents very real unique characters against the universal back drop of the dutiful war years, the “good housekeeping” 50’s, and the freer feminist 60’s. Meridian creates a satisfying resolution to her life in the 70’s by contributing to the successful future of other young women. I especially enjoyed her careful observations of crows, which began as scientific study and ended like family. Church’s style reflects an unusual combination of lyrical descriptive prose and careful scientific detailing, which was a welcome change from straight modern fiction. It’s her first novel and not perfect, but a winner which stayed with me.
One day in early October I admitted to myself that I had not read the Constitution of the United States since high school, when, honestly, I wasn’t really paying much attention. Shame on me, but I was determined to make amends. So on a sunny Wednesday, while my boon companion ran his daily constitutional, I settled on a Bowdoin playing field, my back against a goal post, and commenced reading.
Establishing order among the firebrands who were former siblings-at-arms must have been far more challenging than agreeing on the “simple” matter of ridding ourselves of a tax-mad despot, that being King George III. Not to denigrate the stark courage and jarring realities of declaring independence, but such a venture seems ripe for dramatic, prosaical flourishes around complaints and lists of grievances. Righteous indignation. Self-evident Truths. For all its inspirational beauty, it is a free-standing one-off telling it like it was.
Ah, but the Constitution of the United States is more about nuts and bolts, a study in contradictions and determination to make this thing, these separate but United States, work. It is iron-clad and flexible. It works in its immediacy and its timeless aspiration. Sometimes misguided in its particularities while spot-on in its generalities. Open to amendment and redefinition and reconsideration. Slow but inexorable in its expansiveness and view. Packed full of good intentions and the recognition that mistakes will be made and rectified. Flawed but evolving. An absolute wonder of principle and compromise.
I suggest sitting down, whether on a rainy day with a cup of coffee, or a sunny morning on the dewy grass and taking a new look at our young nation’s astounding feat. And, what the heck, spend a few minutes with the Declaration of Independence, too. What shoulders we stand on!
Cole’s collection covers a wide variety of topics, with essays on travel, contemporary photography, the election of Barack Obama in 2008, and the intricacies of life as a Nigerian-American writer. I find myself uniquely enveloped by Cole’s writing. His words seem to put me entirely at ease regardless of my situation or the topic of the essay. This collection also includes a number of Teju’s own photographs which I appreciate for their subtlety and attentiveness to the minutia of every day life.
Spain in Our Hearts recounts portions of the Spanish Civil war through the experiences of various Americans who were involved in the struggle. A number of prominent writers make appearances throughout the story and seeing their relationships and interactions with the war through an outsider’s eye adds valuable context to the work they would later publish about the conflict. I found especially enlightening Hochschild’s framing of the war as both the immediate predecessor to, as well as a testing ground for many of the tactics Hitler and Mussolini would employ during WWII.
Theroux is a great writer of travel literature, and this is an area of the country near and dear to his heart. If you want to grasp the ‘how’ and ‘why” the people of the south might seem to think so differently from those of us in New England, you would do well to start with his book: although it could only be seen as a start.
I started looking for more writing on Syria to better comprehend the war as the news on my commute became more and more emphatically brutal this fall. Reporter and editor Janine Di Giovanni’s book is a caring and unflinching look at individual stories from Syria, where she has reported on men and women who experienced torture, the killings of loved ones, displacement, hunger, despair, and all the relentless human agonies and tolls of a war that is still going on. One of Di Giovanni’s conversations was with a devoted man who, with five others, was still trying to bake bread for thousands in Aleppo that year: “Together, Mohammed and his little team made about 17,000 bags of bread a day—each bag containing fourteen loaves of flat bread. He said this bread was keeping Aleppo alive…Our lives, he told me, depend on whether we can get petrol for the generators. Imagine this, he said in an exhausted voice. ‘Every step I take, everything I do is about whether or not I can get petrol for the generator. I have to feed a city on that hope. Every single day.'”
Jeff Chang’s book was another powerful read this month, alongside two others: the brilliant essays collected in The Fire This Time (edited by Jesmyn Ward) and its inspiration, James Baldwin’s classic The Fire Next Time. Chang’s publisher notes: “Through deep reporting with key activists and thinkers, passionately personal writing, and distinguished cultural criticism, We Gon’ Be Alright links #BlackLivesMatter to #OscarsSoWhite, Ferguson to Washington D.C., the Great Migration to resurgent nativism. Chang explores the rise and fall of the idea of “diversity,” the roots of student protest, changing ideas about Asian Americanness, and the impact of a century of racial separation in housing. He argues that resegregation is the unexamined condition of our time, the undoing of which is key to moving the nation forward to racial justice and cultural equity.”
It’s time for August staff picks! We’re not quite done with summer yet, and we’re still being inspired by exploration and discovery. So as Dumbledore didn’t say: “Let us step into the blog post and pursue that flighty mistress, Adventure.”
1. Not-For-Parents South America: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know by Margaret Hynes is part of the newest series for children from Lonely Planet. Adults who loved the Lonely Planet guides as they roamed around the world in their youth will be delighted to share colorful photos and fun facts with their young citizens of the world. With a small kid friendly format and pages bursting with action photography, art, and fascinating facts, these guides are sure to be a hit with families preparing for an upcoming adventure or simply interested in learning more about the far corners of our world.
2. Family Science Backpacks make adventuring easy and fun for the whole family. Six backpacks, with themes ranging from Star Gazing to Water Wonder, give families real tools to use as they explore their world. Binoculars, bug nets, butterfly guides, magnifying glasses, and lists of Citizen Science connections take learning beyond the book. Family Science Backpacks check out from the Children’s Desk for one week and encourage children to explore their world and share what they learn. Whether your adventure takes you to you to your backyard, local park, or beyond!
Available for PC, PS Vita, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Wii-U
Why? Because this is the closest I will ever get to being a red-headed princess floating through a fairy-tale landscape while wielding a sword and defeating the forces of darkness with my rag-tag friends and amazing powers of light-magic.
Be prepared to lose yourself (for hours) in Aurora’s quest through the haunted land of Lumeria. Perfect for a stormy day when you can’t go to the beach or tend to your garden. Child of Light features a strong, kind and (very important here) playable female protagonist, which is a gem in the gaming world. The story isn’t just a series of quests but a coming-of-age for Aurora, who not only grows stronger and more powerful throughout the game, but also more world-wise.
We currently only own this game for PS Vita at the library but I hope to make it available for the other platforms.
Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum. This book recounts Slocum’s epic solo voyage around the world and has inspired many – myself included. While I did not sail alone around the world, I did spend a few years crewing on sailboats. I would often revisit this title when we were on a long, offshore journey not seeing land for days at a time. In 1899, after three years at sea, he completed his around the world trip aboard his S/V SPRAY. With this feat he proved not only that one could sail solo around the world but that he could write a captivating story.
I also would like to recommend Travels with Charley, In Search of America by John Steinbeck (I highly recommend the audiobook version available via Mainecat). In the 60’s John Steinbeck felt he had lost his understanding of America. So he and his beloved dog, Charley, set off on a road trip across the states. Their travels sent them through forty states, including Maine where he travels Rte One, heads to Deer Isle and meets a disillusioned waitress outside of Bangor. This book reads as a poignant love letter to America, and also give deep insight to Steinbeck’s thoughts in his later years.
The riveting story of the adventures and scholarship of two extraordinary Scottish sisters, Dr. Agnes Smith Lewis and Dr. Margaret Dunlop Gibson. Daring and dedicated linguists and explorers, the two tracked down ancient manuscripts in Sinai, Jerusalem, and Cairo, discovering a palimpsest of some of the earliest versions of the gospels recorded in ancient Syriac.
First published in 1939, Always a Little Further by Alastair Borthwick is the tale of the author’s adventures hiking and climbing in Scotland in the 1930s. He writes with humor and a sprinkling of philosophical musings. And, because it is an older book (a book of a certain age, as my mother would say), it is also a chance to travel back in time, to days when adventurers clambered around, clad not in high tech materials but in “breeches” that froze solid in the snow, toting lightweight eiderdown sleeping bags (that usually dried out by the end of a journey) and rucksacks stuffed with biscuits.
Yet such is the peculiar constitution of man that winter mountaineering is a disease both infectious and chronic. There are two reasons why this should be so. First, man is an optimist: yesterday was filthy, but tomorrow the sun may shine … And second, the reasoning powers of man are obscured by an inability to distinguish between things he enjoys doing, and things he enjoys having done.
(My favorite adventure of all time feels a little dusty and dated, but it’s true: The Princess Bride is still the best! An old love is a true love).
Epic space opera and graphic novel fantasy Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, is a much more gritty, futuristic adventure for 2016. Alana (she’s got wings) and Marko (he’s got horns) are in deeply star-crossed love—and they’re on the interplanetary lam. Two soldiers from the opposite sides of a galactic war, they’re just trying to protect each other and their daughter Hazel. Brilliantly bizarre worldbuilding, complex relationships, and non-stop plot twists, plus key characters like a robot prince with a television for a head, a lie-detecting cat, and a wisecracking-yet-fearsome ghost babysitter make the initial volumes in this series sound lively and cute, yet the themes besides love, friendship, and family are harrowing, adults-only, a ferocious commentary on the very darkest sides of the universe. (Slavery. Addiction. Endless war). It’s tough out there in space…even when the plot is sprinkled with the stardust of blazing hope. Will love survive? Saga has won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story and several Harvey and Eisner awards for art and writing. Access it online through Hoopla or find it in our Adult graphic novel section—again, be advised that the series contains (very) mature content. For adults. The exploits of Prince Humperdinck and Count Rugen pale.
Thanks for reading, everyone! Hope you have many adventures in the rest of August…