Information, Answers & Reviews

Review: Universal Harvester

This is the second novel from Bloomington-born author John Darnielle, known also for the past twenty-five years as the songwriter in his band the Mountain Goats. While Universal Harvester’s trailer video [YouTube] suggests a horror story, the only slight chills come from the unexpected shifts between third and first person narration. And the eeriness is almost comforting, providing a profound depth and hopefulness to lives that may outwardly appear unremarkable.

Online Learning Made Easy

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One simple fact about the modern world is that the need for learning never ends. Another simple fact? The cost of learning keeps going up. As the Rolling Stones once said:

What can a poor boy do
Except play in a rock and roll band . . .

Nowadays, a poor boy can also go to Lynda.com through the Library’s website and, with just his Library card barcode number, learn the basics of music— and how to play it, record it, and promote it. And that’s just the beginning of what he can learn with Lynda.com's high-quality, self-paced online video lessons.

Homegoing

A Ghana proverb says, “By going and coming, a bird weaves its nest.” The title of this novel tells the story of many people from Ghana who were forcibly removed from their African home, yet centuries later, two descendants return to find their family.

If you liked Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, Yaa Gyasi’s novel will make the perfect follow-up.  Hard to believe that she started writing this in her early twenties and finished it by age twenty-six. It covers much more ground than Whitehead’s historical novel: Africa and the U.S., and much more time, from the mid-seventeen hundreds to now.  

At one point in the novel, a black history teacher describes history as storytelling. Gyasi presents many eloquent and heart-rending stories here. What ties them together is that all the characters belong to one extended family, who were once royalty in Ghana. They became both slave-sellers and slaves. Many came to America.

Gyasi follows two tracks of this family: one remained in Ghana, the other was forced into slavery in the U.S.  It follows their descendants after the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the great migration north.

Gyasi visited Africa as a student to do research on a book about mothers and daughters. But when she toured Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle, something in the rooms, the cellar where slaves were chained and abused in dungeons called out to her. She immediately decided to focus on the African slave trade and its diaspora later in the U.S.

The Vegetarian

For me, books are a form of traveling to distant places, places I will probably never see. Because of this, I decided to check out this Man Booker Prize winner about South Korea.

My experience with books set in Korea has centered on North Korea—mostly nonfiction, except for Adam Johnson’s stellar novel The Orphan Master’s Son that won the Pulitzer in 2012.

The Vegetarian begins with the speaker, Cheong, saying, “Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as unremarkable in every way.” Cheong, an ambitious businessman, then states that he deliberately chose his wife because she was so bland.

But late one night, Yeong-hye wakes from a dream. Cheong finds her in the kitchen in the dark; she does not respond to his words or even his touch. The next day, Yeong-hye, almost in a trancelike state, throws away all the meat and fish from their refrigerator and freezer. She never willingly eats flesh again.

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