For the Love of Reading

A Lesson Before Dying

Since 1976, four hundred and ninety four blacks have been executed in our country. This is more than half the amount of executions of whites, although Caucasians make up a much greater percentage of our population.

This powerful short novel tells the story of Jefferson, a young black man, who was sentenced to execution in the Jim Crow days of the 1940s in Cajun Louisiana. Grant Wiggins, one of the few college-educated blacks in the area, narrates the story.

It opens with a liquor store robbery where Jefferson unfortunately happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Soon an all-white jury convicts the young man, and he is sentenced to the electric chair. Attending the trial are his godmother, Miss Emma, who raised him, and Tante Louise, who brought up Grant and with whom he still lives.

The Lightkeepers

This wow of a novel traces the year Miranda nee Melissa nee Mousegirl spent on one of the Farallon Islands, thirty miles from San Francisco, taking photographs of the wildlife and living with a band of equally wild biologists.

Miranda received a grant to take pictures on the Farallons and she hides behind her camera. It allows her to observe the world, but always keep it at a safe distance. If you like photography, you will love reading how Geni describes this art, and what a photographer thinks in the moment of shooting.

Then there are the manic, neurotic, preoccupied, risk-crazy biologists. There’s Lucy, bird expert, particularly of murres, and Forest and Galen, white shark experts. Also, Mick, scholar of cetaceans and pinnipeds. Also, sharing the too small cabin is Andrew, Lucy’s boyfriend, and Charlene, the red-haired intern who helps everyone in their research.

In Order to Live: a North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom

Born weighing less than three pounds, Yeonmi Park, had to fight to survive infancy. Her can-do spirit and inner resiliency also kept her alive through the Great Famine that struck North Korea in the 1990s.

Park describes the horror that descended upon North Korea after Russia and China stopped supporting their economy. In the far north, Park’s mother and father had to scramble for work. Most of the manufacturing jobs in their city disappeared so Yeonmi’s father began selling on the black market.

Even doing this dangerous work, the family tottered on the edge of famine often, and at other times did quite well. But well in this context was relative. In the flush periods, the Parks had rice three times daily, and meat only two or three times a month.

Park also describes the rigid class groupings the North Korean government enforced. There were three classes (songbun) and movement between them went in only direction, down.

M Train

This absorbing new memoir by artist, poet, performer, and rock star Patti Smith provides a personal take on her daily life: her dreams, philosophical musings, friendships and myriad exotic journeys.  Favorite black jacket, check.  Watch cap, check. Black coffee at Café ‘Ino, check.

Unlike Just Kids, which focused on her past, her life with artist Mapplethorpe in the famous Chelsea Hotel, in this book the past and present intertwine. Coffee, the connecting themes.

Appropriately enough, it begins with a dream. One of many that thread through the book. Next Patti describes her trip to French Guiana in the 70s. After her husband promised her a trip anyway in the world. Patti--idiosyncratic as always--chose the place where French writer Genet was imprisoned. They were almost jailed themselves on the way back when their driver was caught ferrying a man in the trunk to the airport.

The Best American Essays 2015

The year 2015 has rushed out the exit door, but no worries, this wonderful mix of essays is not time-centric.

My favorite in the collection I randomly chose first. Sorry, editor, Ariel Levy, I just dive into these collections and start reading wherever my finger lands. Tim Kreider’s “A Man and his Cat” describes a single fellow’s devotion for his cat.  How one small nonhuman creature fills his home with love and his life with a sense of purpose.

On the other hand, in the humorous sounding essay “My Grandma the Poisoner” John Reed makes a strong case that the early deaths of several relatives and the upset stomachs and inertia of certain houseguests were not accidental. Reed found himself comatose for fourteen hours several times after eating a Grandma meal.

The sweet and spot-on “65” describes how aging has affected one boomer’s life.  Mark Jacobson milks the slowing down and aches and pains of age for all they are worth. The tone is light but the sentiments serious, especially when he ponders the overarching question, how did this happen to me.

The Lunar Chronicles

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer is one of my favorite series of all time. These science fiction retellings of fairy tales are exciting, romantic, smart, funny, and all around awesome. The first book in the series, Cinder, introduces readers to the world and its conflicts. Scarlet brings in some great new characters and sets the plot moving along. Cress also introduces new characters, new conflicts, and new allies. I loved all three of these books, as well as Fairest, the prequel to the series. The most recent book, Winter, is exactly what fans have been hoping for. At just over 800 pages, it's long enough to completely lose yourself in the world and feel like you get enough time to spend with all your favorite characters. Although, I was still disappointed when it was all over.

In Cinder the reader learns that humans have colonized the Moon, now known as Luna. The Earth is broken into fewer, large countries. Cinder lives in the Eastern Commonwealth, one of the largest and most powerful countries. The Commonwealth is ruled by an Emperor and his son, Kaito, is a very handsome prince. Cinder is a cyborg, a human with robotic components, who is also the best mechanic in the Commonwealth. She lives with her adopted mother and two sisters, working hard to earn her keep and never feeling like a part of the family. When Prince Kaito shows up at her booth to inquire about her ability to fix his favorite android it's the start of something much larger for both of them. Cinder finds herself drawn into the political power plays of Queen Levana of Luna, a cruel leader with her sights set on the Commonwealth. A plague is ravaging the people of Earth and Levana has an antidote, but the young prince must first give her what she wants if he's ever to save his people. 

This series is great for fans of action, romance, fairy tales, science fiction, Sailor Moon (trust me on this), and characters you wish you could be friends with in real life. The library has these books on audiobook, ebook, and traditional format. Choose one and get started enjoying your new favorite series! Then come to The Ground Floor and talk to me about them!

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