Tuesday, August 23, 2016

August 2016 Staff Book Recommendations

American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division
By Michael A. Cohen


Every four years during election season, people typically mention how the current election is particularly combative and lament the breakdown of political discourse. Anyone who thinks that the 2016 election is uniquely eventful, however, should check out Boston Globe columnist Michael Cohen’s account of the 1968 presidential election, one of the most contentious in American history. In American Maelstrom, Cohen describes how 1968 would see President LBJ decide not to run for reelection, the assassination of RFK, anti-war riots at the Democratic National Convention, and Richard Nixon’s development of the Southern Strategy to stir up racial resentment. All this took place against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Cohen’s account is quite readable and fast-paced, and despite the scholarly nature of the book, makes for an exciting read. Cohen’s experience as a newspaper columnist makes him particularly good at describing events clearly and succinctly. While Cohen does a great job explaining various events and concepts however, he does assume a certain prior knowledge of the American political system that could leave some readers confused. Still, the book should be understandable to a political novice, though politics aficionados will likely get more out of it. 

Beyond a simple retelling of the events of the election, Cohen lays out a compelling case that the events of 1968 created reverberations in American politics that linger to this day. The year 1968 sent the Democratic Party into a tailspin that they wouldn’t fully recover from for years, and changed the way that both Democrats and Republicans campaign. In the closing chapter of the book, Cohen goes through a timeline of presidential elections from 1968 to the present day and clearly shows how events from those elections echo what took place in 1968. As Cohen quotes one presidential aide saying, “It’s never stopped being 1968.”


The Girls
By Emma Cline

At a 2002 parole board hearing, Manson family member Leslie Van Houten said: “I take very seriously not just the murders, but what made me make myself available to someone like Manson.”
Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2016 

Much has been made about the fact that this summer's bestselling novel The Girls is about the Charles Manson’s "family” and their notorious crimes of August 1969. And while it is fictional rendering of those real events, what is most compelling about this work is that its answers to the answerable, i.e., "Why would those young women commit such atrocities, based only on Manson’s say-so, without him even present? How did they fall under his influence in the first place?", ring so very true.

Cline’s answers are conveyed through the past and present psyche of her protagonist Evie Boyd. Lulled by a hum-drum summer and feeling adrift since her parents’ recent divorce and breakup with her best friend, Evie’s curiosity is instantly peaked when she spies a group of bohemian girls boldly making their way around a local park: “They were messing with an uneasy threshold, prettiness and ugliness at the same time, and a ripple of awareness followed them.”  Before too long, she has an opportunity to impress the alpha female among them by shoplifting food for her. A chance encounter a few days later, after a fight with her increasingly distant mother places Evie into a dangerous state of rebellion, inspires Evie to follow this group back to their ranch. All it takes after that is a few hours alone with magnetic leader Russell and she’s spiritually committed to “the family”. 

The vulnerability incurred merely by existing as an adolescent female in the world, the stubborn overconfidence of teenagers, and perhaps more than anything else, the very human, overarching need to belong (as so adeptly described in Sebastian Junger’s latest work Tribe), are the weaknesses through which Russell exploits his loyal followers. However, the book is very little about him; it’s all about The Girls. 


Listen, Slowly
By Thanhhà Lại 

Mai’s a regular Cali girl — she swims, she surfs, and spends most of her time goofing off with her superficial best friend. At school her friends call her Mia, an American variant on her given Vietnamese name. It’s indicative of the way she generally feels about her heritage; it definitely doesn't fit her lifestyle. But this summer, her plans to get a boyfriend and a tan are thwarted when her Ba (grandmother) finds out about her long lost husband who went MIA during the Vietnam War. Mai’s parents are making her go with Ba, not only because they don’t want Ba going by herself but because they think it’s about time Mai experiences her culture. Mai’s bummed, but she doesn’t have the heart to say no to her beloved grandmother. So she leaves to spend her summer on the beach -- just not Laguna Beach. 

Vietnam is hot, humid, insanely buggy, and much of the food upsets her stomach. She’s lonely, tired, and nauseous, and can’t really communicate with anyone besides her Ba. But then she meets a few friends — one with a Texas accent, even — and slowly she begins to understand more Vietnamese. As she becomes more and more familiar with the language, the rest falls into place. She finds dishes she enjoys, cute clothes for sale in markets and friends to hang out with. She travels to Saigon and Hanoi, catches frogs, gets muddy and creates a particularly special bond with her quirky cousin. But the mystery of her grandfather, the underlying reason for her trip, is truly what helps her immerse into Vietnamese culture. 

What I especially love is Mai’s voice. She’s got a kind of swagger to her that’s distinctly pre-adolescent. She’s funny, sarcastic, confident (at times cocky), but she’s not immune to getting crushed by a crush, being embarrassed or insecure, so she's definitely relatable. It's a lot different from Lại's debut novel Inside Out & Back Again, which is written in free verse and set during the Vietnam War. Listen, Slowly is much less intense and more identifiable for a child or young adult reader. 

I was inspired to read this book after a young patron at the Goddard Branch Library checked it out - sans enthusiasm - with her Vietnamese father smiling by her side. I think that finding your cultural roots often begins with parents’ direction, like how Mai’s parents made her go on the trip. Eventually, though, you discover a part of yourself you never knew about. Maybe this patron will feel the same after she reads it, and others like it. 


Alpine for You
by Maddy Hunter

Looking for a fun, LOL, travel murder mystery? Look no further than Maddy Hunter’s Alpine for You, the first book in her quirky Passport to Peril mystery series, starring Emily Andrews and her Nana from Iowa. Five exciting attractions that await you!

1.      A lovely locale: Take a nine-day trip to Switzerland, brought to you exclusively by Golden Swiss Triangle Tours!

2.       Delightfully eccentric characters: Emily Andrews, recent divorcée whose ex-husband stole her underwear; “Nana” Marion Sippel, Emily’s grandmother, who just won the lottery and enjoys solving mysteries based on her knowledge of reality TV; a host of Iowan retirees from Nana’s travel group; and, Mr. Nunzio, a resident of Switzerland who bares his bare bottom to unsuspecting fellow senior citizens!

3.       Kills: Triangle Tour escort Andy Simon, a man who was “as randy as a mountain goat on Viagra, hitting on every miss—Swiss or otherwise—within striking distance” (back cover of book) has been snuffed out and the murderer is still on the loose!

4.       Thrills and chills: Will Emily Andrews ever find true love again or will she die having only a can of air freshener and a very high-tech Swiss Army knife with 29 different functions as her weapons of defense?!

5.       No stress: Have all the fun of travel without the added headaches (such as paying for an exorbitantly expensive room that has no windows, hotel staff losing luggage, or having to eat something from “a bowl that was filled with Elmer’s Glue with raisins” (p. 41) because a big group of Iowan retirees ate all the eggs and bacon for breakfast.

Cost?  FREE!! (at your local library) Try out Maddy Hunter’s Passport to Peril mystery series today!
Book 1: Alpine for You
Book 2: Top o’ the Mournin'
Book 3: Pasta Imperfect
Book 4: Hula Done It
Book 5: G’ Day to Die
Book 6: Norway to Hide
Book 7: Dutch Me Deadly
Book 8: Bonnie of Evidence
Book 9: Fleur de Lies
Book 10: From Bad to Wurst


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