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Kern County Library Staff Suggests...: February Recommendations for Adults

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February Recommendations for Adults


Glorious by Bernice L. McFadden - "McFadden, in her powerful seventh novel, tells the story of Easter Bartlett as she journeys from the violent Jim Crow South to the promise of the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement. Along the way, Easter forms relationships with both products of McFadden's imagination and actual historical figures: Rain, the sensuous and passionate dancer in Slocum's Traveling Brigade, a troupe that traveled the backwoods entertaining negroes; Colin, Easter's husband, who is provoked by a duplicitous friend into assassinating the Universal Negro Improvement Association leader, Marcus Garvey; Meredith, Easter's untrustworthy benefactor; and many more, including poet Langston Hughes, pianist Fats Waller, and shipping heiress Nancy Cunard. McFadden (Sugar) weaves rich historical detail with Easter's struggle to find peace in a racially polarized country, and she brings Harlem to astounding life: The air up there, up south, up in Harlem, was sticky sweet and peppered with perfume, sweat, sex, curry, salt meat, sautéed chicken livers, and fresh baked breads. Easter's hope for love to overthrow hate—and her intense exposure to both—cogently stands for America's potential, and McFadden's novel is a triumphant portrayal of the ongoing quest." (May 2010, Publisher’s Weekly.)

Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza
- "Novelist Shange teams up with her award-winning playwright sister Bayeza in this 200 year historical saga of African American life. In its riveting dramatization of the promise of emancipation, the brutality of Reconstruction, the baroque cruelty of the Jim Crow era, all the way to the possibilities of the digital age, this bittersweet tale of seven generations in a family of mixed blood and musical genius weaves together essential historical facts and profound emotional truths. The postbellum exodus of Betty, a woman of spiritual powers, from a decimated South Carolina plantation––where she endured a tragic entanglement with the owner and gave life to children of unusual beauty, talent, and determination—launches this engrossing novel. Each character is magnetizing––from Betty to her ambitious daughter Eudora to her renegade daughter Lizzie to brave Osceola to Cinnamon, Tokyo, and Liberty. Each setting, from Charleston to Harlem, is brilliantly realized, and each social convulsion, most strikingly the violence against black veterans of WWI, is intimately illuminated, while anguished conflicts erupt between men and women in shattering microcosms of larger societal crimes. With music as a sustaining force, Shange and Bayeza's epic of courage, improvisation, and transcendence is glorious in its scope, lyricism, and spectrum of yearnings, convictions, and triumphs." –review by Donna Seaman, Booklist.

Sweetsmoke: A Novel of the Civil War by David Fuller - The year is 1862, and the Civil War rages through the South. On a Virginia tobacco planation, another kind of battle soon begins. There, Cassius Howard, a skilled carpenter and slave, risks everything to learn the truth concerning the murder of Emoline, a freed black woman, a woman who secretly taught him to read and once saved his life. Cassius seeks answers and braves horrific dangers to escape the plantation and avenge her death. With subtlety and beauty, Fuller captures the daily indignities and harrowing losses suffered by slaves, the turmoil of a country waging countless wars within its own borders, and the lives of those people fighting for identity, for salvation, and for freedom.

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez - Based on a little known footnote of history, this wholly original debut novel follows the lives of four slave women whose masters who bring them to Tawawa House for summer vacation. In many respects, Tawawa House is like any other American resort before the Civil War. Offering natural mineral springs and situated in Ohio, this idyllic retreat is particularly nice in the summer when the Southern humidity is too much to bear. The main building, with its luxurious finishes, is loftier than the white cottages that flank it, but then again, the smaller structures are better positioned to catch any breeze that may come off the pond. And they provide more privacy, which best suits the needs of the Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their black, enslaved mistresses. It's their open secret.

Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet are regulars at Tawawa House. They have become friends over the years as they reunite and share developments in their own lives and on their respective plantations. They don't bother too much with questions of freedom, though the resort is situated in free territory–but when truth-telling Mawu comes to the resort and starts talking of running away, things change. To run is to leave behind everything these women value most–friends and families still down South–and for some it also means escaping from the emotional and psychological bonds that bind them to their masters. When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, the women of Tawawa House soon learn that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable and that love exists even in the most inhuman, brutal of circumstances–all while they are bearing witness to the end of an era.


Children of Fire: A History of African Americans by Thomas C. Holt - The title is taken from a sermon by a 17th century Brazilian priest in which he likens the "mark of slavery" with God’s fire; a fire that brands the body as the condition it confers illuminates the soul. Starting with the moment the first twenty African slaves were sold at Jamestown in the summer of 1619, each chapter focuses on a generation of individuals who shaped the course of American history. Many familiar faces grace these pages but so do some overlooked ones. All struggled for a better life against and within a legal and social system designed to prevent that from happening. Written with compassion for the human suffering that has driven one of the great social movements of American history, Holt has created a history that embraces the historical experience of black intellectuals and ordinary folk.

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu - In this age of an open Internet, it is easy to forget that every American information industry, beginning with the telephone, has eventually been taken captive by some ruthless monopoly or cartel. With all our media now traveling a single network, an unprecedented potential is building for centralized control over what Americans see and hear. Could history repeat itself with the next industrial consolidation? Could the Internet—the entire flow of American information—come to be ruled by one corporate leviathan in possession of "the master switch"? That is the big question of Tim Wu’s pathbreaking book.

As Wu’s sweeping history shows, each of the new media of the twentieth century—radio, telephone, television, and film—was born free and open. Each invited unrestricted use and enterprising experiment until some would-be mogul battled his way to total domination. Here are stories of an uncommon will to power, the power over information: Adolph Zukor, who took a technology once used as commonly as YouTube is today and made it the exclusive prerogative of a kingdom called Hollywood . . . NBC’s founder, David Sarnoff, who, to save his broadcast empire from disruptive visionaries, bullied one inventor (of electronic television) into alcoholic despair and another (this one of FM radio, and his boyhood friend) into suicide . . . And foremost, Theodore Vail, founder of the Bell System, the greatest information empire of all time, and a capitalist whose faith in Soviet-style central planning set the course of every information industry thereafter.

Explaining how invention begets industry and industry begets empire—a progress often blessed by government, typically with stifling consequences for free expression and technical innovation alike—Wu identifies a time-honored pattern in the maneuvers of today’s great information powers: Apple, Google, and an eerily resurgent AT&T. A battle royal looms for the Internet’s future, and with almost every aspect of our lives now dependent on that network, this is one war we dare not tune out.

Part industrial exposé, part meditation on what freedom requires in the information age, The Master Switch is a stirring illumination of a drama that has played out over decades in the shadows of our national life and now culminates with terrifying implications for our future.

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman with John Shiffman - Robert K. Wittman, the founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, pulls back the curtain on his remarkable career for the first time, offering a real-life international thriller to rival The Thomas Crown Affair. In this page-turning memoir, Wittman fascinates with the stories behind his recoveries of priceless art and antiquities: the Rodin sculpture that inspired the Impressionist movement; the headdress Geronimo wore at his final Pow-Wow; and the rare Civil War battle flag carried into battle by one of the nation’s first African-American regiments. Wittman devised the strategy for recovering an original copy of the Bill of Rights and cracked the scam that rocked the PBS series Antiques Roadshow. In his final case, Wittman called on every bit of knowledge and experience in his arsenal to take on his greatest challenge. Working undercover to track the vicious criminals behind what might be the most audacious art theft of all: the heist of paintings worth over $300 million dollars from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Say It Loud: Great Speeches on Civil Rights and African American Identity edited by Catherine Ellis and Stephen Drury Smith - "Following Say It Plain (2005), the highly acclaimed anthology of African American political speech of the past century, this collection offers speeches reflecting changes in black identity from 1960 to the present and the continued struggle for equal rights. Each of the 23 speeches is preceded by a biographical sketch of the speaker and the historical context for the speech. The collection begins with Malcolm X in 1964 addressing a Detroit Baptist church, warning of the thinning patience of black Americans longing for racial justice. It includes Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference convention steering the leadership toward economics and Henry Louis Gates Jr. in 2004 speaking on the eve of the release of his PBS project America Beyond the Color Line. The collection ends with candidate Barack Obama in 2008 addressing, for the first time in his campaign, the thorny issue of race. An accompanying CD offers a chance to hear excerpts from most of the speeches, which collectively provide a sweeping perspective on evolving issues of black identity in the struggle for equality." --Vanessa Bush, Booklist.


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