Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Nevermore: Mudbound, Dying of Whiteness, Sum of Us, Sacre Bleu


Reported by Garry


Our first book reviewed was Mudbound by Hillary Jordan.  Our reader had watched the movie a while ago, and states that this is definitely one case where the book is much better.  There are six main characters in this book, and each tells their side of the unfolding story that is set in the Mississippi Delta in 1946.  Race relations, romance and the remaining shadows of war set the backdrop to this award winning debut novel.  Our reader cannot recommend this book enough.  


The ongoing corrosion caused by racism is examined in our next book, Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan Metzl.   In this provocative book, Metzl, a professor of psychology and sociology at Vanderbilt University looks at the decades long effects of conservative white voters embracing the idea that if someone else gains, they lose.  He examines how racial resentment has led to pro-gun laws in Mississippi, resistance to the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee and cuts to schools and social services in Kansas.  The results have been increasing suicide by gun, dropping life expectancies and an increase in high-school dropout rates amongst the very population that these laws were supposedly designed to assuage.  Our reader thought this was an extremely well written and researched book that outlines how people for decades have been voting against their very own best interests.  


The next book, The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee dovetails beautifully with Dying of Whiteness.  In this New York Times best-seller, McGhee takes a close look at how racism is the underlying cause to myriad socio-economic and democratic problems across the country.  These problems that don’t just harm people of color, but all Americans, especially the poorer citizens of the country.  She examines why many believe that progress is zero sum game – progress for some only comes at the expense of others, and how this thinking has led to growing economic inequality, stagnating wages, and the startling fact that America alone is the sole first world country that does not have universal healthcare.   Our reader thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommends it for anyone wanting to have a deeper understanding of how we got to this place in our history and how we can go forward.


Our next reader thoroughly enjoyed the satirical Sacre Blue by Christopher Moore.  This bawdy historical novel follows the (mis)adventures of Lucien Lessard and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec as they search for the source of a near mythical shade of blue paint and try to find out the truth behind Vincent van Gogh’s death.  This historical fantasy incorporates elements of mystery, romance, science fiction and features appearances by many of the prominent Impressionist artists of the time.  Our reader thought this was a hilarious book and, being an artist herself, loved all the “cameos” by the late nineteenth-century high-rollers, and greatly recommends this book. 


Also mentioned:

Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age by Sanjay Gupta.

Charming Billy by Alice McDermott

After the Fog by Kathleen Shoop

The Paris Library by Janet Charles

Monday, March 29, 2021

Child Star by Brian “Box” Brown

Reviewed by Jeanne

When this graphic novel came in, I picked it up intending to glance through it and then send it on its way to our patrons.  The book opens with the lines, “Owen Eugene’s biography was written when he was 13 years old.  Maybe that says it all.”

Intrigued, I checked it out.  The book is a fictional biography of a child star of the 1980s, a kid who has presence, impeccable comedic timing, and the appearance of someone much younger—which is great when you are 14 and playing an 8 year old, not so great when you are 30 and still look like a child.  As the story opens, various people are being interviewed about Owen Eugene as if for some sort of documentary: his parents, his adult co-star on the series, other child actors.  Everyone has a story to tell, and the stories are as much about the people telling them as they are about Eugene.  They all also have the ring of truth because, really, we’ve heard this all before. 

And yet, this format does more than anything else I have read to illustrate (no pun intended) what life is like for a child actor.  In part I think that’s because we never hear the story from Eugene—just from those around him, all of whom have their own agenda, whether or not it is a conscious agenda. 

It follows the trajectory you might expect: child becomes overnight star with his own sit-com, a household name, with a catch phrase on T-shirts and his face on lunch boxes.  He rules the airwaves.  In true 80s/90s fashion, his comedy series takes on Important Issues of the day with “very special episodes” to highlight drug abuse, bullying, whatever.  The message is driven home with a sledgehammer and lessons are learned so that everyone can feel good about what is being done—which is actually nothing.  Movies, cartoons, guest appearances, and talk shows fill in any time gaps in the young actor’s schedule.  Stories start to emerge that he’s a spoiled brat, that he’s a bully, that he’s ungrateful. New shows pop up, all following the same formula but with younger, cuter stars.

And then for Owen, the jobs start to dry up.

Although this book isn’t about a specific kid actor, often their stories end up sounding much alike. There are exceptions, of course, but especially for the kids who look ever-childlike, it’s a hard transition.  The books draws a great deal from Gary Coleman’s real life story, but the problems of being a child star certainly predate that.  Jackie Coogan’s role in Charlie Chaplin’s silent film The Kid transformed him into one of the first child stars and, in a foretaste of things to come, he found when he turned 21 that his considerable earnings had been spent by his mother and stepfather. The result was a new law in California to attempt to protect child actors.  Dean Stockwell had a lengthy career as a child star as well, and has spoken about the stress of basically being the family breadwinner at a tender age. Many child actors are adamant that they would never let one of their children be in the “the business,” but that doesn’t stop the flow of young talent.  Just take a moment and think of all the child stars you’ve watched, still known mostly by their character names:  the Brady Bunch kids, Blossom, Boy Meets World, Diff’rent Strokes, Facts of Life—the list goes on and on.

I feel this book does an excellent job of showing just how hard it really is to be a child star and yet does so without being sentimental or condescending.  It’s made me think a lot about those old shows and to see them in a different light.  I remember being totally shocked when “Buffy” from A Family Affair died of a drug overdose shortly after her 18th birthday. (Am I the only one who remembers that show?)  After reading this book, I think I understand a bit better; and I think the graphic novel format explains in a way just text or video can’t, allowing the reader to draw conclusions.

I was surprised at how much I liked this book. Part of it, certainly, was the trip down memory lane as I recalled other child stars, despite the fact that many were not living the dream that publicists made it seem.  The art was a little off-putting at first, until I got used to the style; it’s cartoony looking but certainly suits the subject and as I got used to I thought it was appropriate.

If you want a book to give a “behind the scenes” sort of vibe about child stars, this would be a good choice. I may recommend it to a co-worker who really likes the 80s!

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston


Reviewed by Ambrea


In his book, The Hot Zone, Richard Preston explores the history behind the highly infectious and incredibly deadly ebola viruses.  He takes a look at its possible origins in central Africa and tracks it across continents, all the way to an outbreak in an animal quarantine facility in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.  He examines first-hand accounts, follows scientists who study level 4 “hot” viruses, and weaves a terrifying, nightmarish story about a disease with no cure—and a known fatality rate of 90 percent.


I decided to read The Hot Zone at the recommendation of our favorite librarian, Jeanne, and found a copy of the audio book on Tennessee READS.  Although I selected an abridged version of Preston’s book – and I feel a little like I missed out on some details – I still found it to be a compelling read, nonetheless.  Preston’s book, even trimmed down to fit a five-hour time frame, is one of those that hooks you in the first few minutes and then never really lets you go.


Narrated by Howard McGillin, The Hot Zone is a suspenseful and terrifying book simply for the fact that it deals with a very modern disease, one that humankind has yet to understand.  This wasn’t like reading about the bubonic plague (we have antibiotics for that), or polio (we have a vaccine for that), or cholera (we have antibiotics for that, too).  Nowadays, there’s a very good chance a person could survive any one of those illnesses, but that’s definitely not the case with ebola.


Ebola will very likely kill you.  Quickly, painfully – and then it’ll get everyone around you.


I have to admit The Hot Zone has pretty much killed my interest in diseases, plagues, and disasters – at least, temporarily – because, after finishing it, I think I need some time to recover.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I listened to Preston’s book.  It’s well-written, fast-paced, and intensely compelling.  While it may rely heavily on thriller tropes and shock value, it kept me riveted (and filled with mortal dread) from the first minute; however, it’s also one of the more gruesome books I’ve read recently and it involves a lot of death, specifically of the human and simian variety.


I don’t recommend eating lunch while listening to this audio book.  It will definitely spoil your appetite.