Award Winner · Essays · In the Library · Julia P · Poetry · Race

Citizen: An American Lyric | by Claudia Rankine

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
(Graywolf Press, 2014, 169 pages)

I feel like I could keep rereading this small book and take something different away from it each time. It packs that kind of punch. Citizen is broken down into 7 parts and each focuses on a different aspect of how the black experience is lived in this world where the death and/or invisibility of black people continues despite growing voices of outrage. The 7 parts of the book are filled with poems, short essays, and art in various forms.

Some sections hit harder for me than others. The night I finished reading this book I teared up in the process. Rankine does an amazing job making the reader reflect on what she has written on the page. There were some parts of Citizen that I honestly had a hard time deconstructing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth putting in the time to do so. There were actually a number of times I put the book down to look something up and get the history of what Rankine was referring to in the text.

Citizen was nominated for a National Book Award and was the recipient of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry. I’d certainly recommend it, especially if you’ve been wondering what all the buzz was about.

Biography · History · Non-Fiction · Science · Ying L

Big Science | by Michael Hiltzik

Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention That Launched the Military-Industrial Complex by Michael Hiltzik
(Simon & Schuster, 2015, 512 pages)

When I saw this new book sitting on the display shelf, I had to check it out. I’d read a couple of books on the Manhattan Project and atomic bombs, and Ernest Lawrence’s name kept popping up. I only knew that he was a key scientist involved in the Manhattan Project and he won a Nobel Prize for inventing the cyclotron.

This book covers Lawrence’s professional career, not so much about his personal life. I enjoyed learning more about his contributions to nuclear physics, his leadership in establishing “Big Science,” and the birth of the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory. It’s a treat to read about other extraordinary scientists whom Lawrence worked with on the Manhattan Project. Among them was Arthur Compton, a Nobel laureate, who served as Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis for eight years.

Chapter 13 covers the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge Tennessee which I know some about. It’s fun to read about it from the views of Lawrence and his 100+ PhD physicists from Berkeley. Here’s a fun story: In a week long competition, the high school diploma workers outdid the PhD physicists in adjusting the knobs and optimizing production. The workers were trained to follow the instructions; whereas the scientists questioned and investigated the minor fluctuation of their meters (271).

Lawrence’s invention of the cyclotron not only revolutionized nuclear physics, it also paved the way for medical research and diagnostics. The cyclotron is a machine that accelerates particles. For example it can produce F 18, a radioisotope, which is used in PET scans. The first commercial medical cyclotron was installed in 1941 at Washington University in St. Louis.

I found this book to be well researched, fast-paced and engaging. If you are interested in World War II or nuclear physics, give this book a try.

Animals · Food! · Julia P · Non-Fiction

Pig Tales | by Barry Estabrook

Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat

Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat by Barry Estabrook
(W. W. Norton & Company, 2015, 336 pages)

Normally when it comes to books that address things like animal treatment and factory farming I tend to steer clear because I don’t like feeling depressed about the nature of our food system. But Estabrook’s Pig Tales seemed to offer the promise of ending on a brighter note rather than being all doom and gloom. The book focuses on how pigs are typically raised for slaughter and how it is detrimental to the animals, the environment, and society as a whole. But he goes forward from here and offers examples of farmers that are doing things humanely, healthily, and successfully.

This was a really good read. While it’s definitely depressing at times, it does offer ways to encourage the general public to speak with their wallets. Take the time to seek out sustainable meat options – yes, it might be more expensive but you’re paying for quality and humanely raised meat. I won’t get on a soapbox, but I did come away from this book more aware of what I could do and what could be done more broadly to enable the animals raised for us to eat to have a better quality of life before giving it up.

Audiobook · Kelly M · Music · Non-Fiction

A Natural Woman | by Carole King

A Natural Woman: A Memoir

A Natural Woman: A Memoir by Carole King
(Grand Central Publishing, 2012, 488 pages)

I listened to the audiobook, A Natural Woman: A Memoir, written and read by multi award-winning singer/songwriter, Carole King. With the national tour of the Broadway musical about King’s life, Beautiful, coming to St. Louis in February, I thought I would check it out. In the 1960s, King co-wrote hit songs with husband Gerry Goffin, such as Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman,” The Shirelle’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care of My Baby,” the Chiffon’s “One Fine Day,” and Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion.” Little Eva was King and Goffin’s children’s babysitter, and after the song became a hit, they had to find a new babysitter! It was interesting to learn the stories behind many of these songs and about how a record was made in the studio. The book spans several decades, and King spends a good amount of time talking about the culture of the 60s, which made for an interesting history lesson. King began a successful solo career in the 1970s, especially with her number one album Tapestry, containing the songs “I Feel the Earth Move,” “It’s Too Late,” and “So Far Away.” James Taylor had a number one hit with King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.” The book contains details about the making of Tapestry and about her long-time friendship with Taylor.

In addition to the music, King talks extensively about her personal relationships. She was married four times, once to a husband who physically abused her. There were other significant relationships, too, and it was sometimes hard to keep track of which one she was talking about!

One surprising thing I learned is that King is also an actress, having starred on Broadway and in the TV show Gilmore Girls.

Listening to King read about her life made me feel a personal connection to her. When she talked about meeting celebrities, she often reported feeling star-struck. Similarly, I would think, “Wow, I can’t believe she got to hang out with John and Yoko!” Then I remembered how famous she was herself. Periodically King breaks into song, and it’s nice to hear her voice so raw and vulnerable without instrumentation.

Carole King has won many prestigious awards over the years, most recently the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors. I highly recommend A Natural Woman: A Memoir, especially if you’re planning to see the national tour of Beautiful.

Fantasy · Fiction · Jean R · Magic · Young Adult

Carry On | by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
(St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015, 522 pages)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is the young adult tale of Simon Snow, magic, vampires, friendship, and love. The first quarter of the book reads like a Harry Potter wannabee novel. Simon is 11 years old when he becomes involved in magic. He doesn’t know his parents. He is taken to a school of magic. He is the chosen one. The list goes on. But when Simon’s roommate, Baz, returns to school after an unexplained absence, the story takes off and becomes more interesting. There are holes in the magic in Great Britain. No one is sure why. Someone is attacking the school of magic. Simon’s life is in danger. Simon, Baz, and Simon’s friend, Penelope, work together to try to save their magical world.

Simon Snow first appeared in Rainbow Rowell’s earlier novel, Fangirl. I did not read Fangirl. I was still able to understand and enjoy the book. Rowell says that Carry On was written as a standalone novel. Once I got past the feeling of “I’m reading Harry Potter all over again,” I did enjoy the book. The characters are interesting. There are a couple ghosts thrown in for good measure. I did think there was a loose end or two, but that may be just me.