Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Raven Report: Sept. 27

Reported by Doris
There was a broad range of great books discussed today.  One member discussed South Carolina author Mary Chestnut who has been called the most important Southern writer of the Civil War era. Chestnut kept extensive diaries during the war and worked them into a book in the early 1880’s. Her detailed descriptions of life on her family’s five plantations in the Carolina Low Country and her comments on the slaves and their treatment lead to a lively discussion about slavery. This tied into the previous discussions on Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Another member grew up in California and said she really did not remember a great emphasis on the Civil War in her school history classes. She said that while there are so many books on the issues of slavery, there are relatively few books that point out the issues of the Native Americans. It was pointed out by some that the different sections of the country each had their own concerns at the time: while the eastern part of the country was fighting the Civil War, the West was embroiled in its own brutal war as Native Americans lost more freedoms and their lands. Library Director Jud Barry mentioned two books he thought very interesting on the topic—Everything You Know About Indians is Wrong by Paul Chaat Smith and Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen. Another member observed that most of what people read about the Native Americans of today comes from the books of Margaret Coel, James Doss, Tony Hillerman, Dana Stabenow and other writers who place their stories within the Native American culture. She also pointed out that reservations have changed due to the oil, gas, and mineral deposits and these changes along with the serious issues such as alcoholism, poverty, and crime are being reflected in the new novels.
The work of Russell Banks was highly recommended by one member, especially The Sweet Hereafter. He has a new book coming out which has been very well reviewed, The Lost Memory of Skin.  Banks tends to write about people who have fallen through the cracks or who are otherwise isolated or shunned by society.  In his new book, the protagonist is a twenty two year old sex offender called “the Kid” who is more or less forced to live under a causeway with other dregs of society.  He’s befriended—more or less-- by “the professor,” an arrogant and manipulative man who claims to be doing a sociological study.

The discussion then switched to the new “wave” of Norwegian and Scandinavian mystery writers that have gained popularity since Stieg Larsson’s series of tremendously popular “The Girl Who” mysteries. Henning Mankell was suggested as a great read. His Kurt Wallander series by Mankell has it all—crime, Swedish setting, great plots, and a fast pace.

Doris suggested Daniel Silva and his Gabriel Allon series to those who like thrillers. Allon is a deep cover Israeli agent who is an art restorer. The newest book in the series is Portrait of a Spy and it is an intense, very timely look at the current situation in the Middle East along with an intriguing plot about a new terrorist cell that plans to strike deep into America.

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