Monthly Archives: September 2015

Melba Patillo-Beals – Warriors Dont Cry (1994)

WarriorsDontCryThis book should be required reading for anyone studying the civil rights movement. I know that can be said for a number of titles, and there’s probably a few I haven’t read, but after reading these memoirs, written by one of the Little Rock Nine, I was floored by how much I didn’t know about the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School.

The Civil Right’s movement is so vast and so large that when studying it, the events at Little Rock are mentioned briefly, if at all. I had read about Governor Faubus standing in front of the doors of Central High School and the President ordering federal troops in to protect the 9 Black students, but often times the story ends there. The nine students enter the school, the end.

But of course the story doesn’t end there, the students faced persecution, torment, and physical and emotional abuse at the hands of fellow students; they faced indifference from the Arkansas National Guard, and they faced ostracism from members of their own community. Of course these students faced all these things, and yet I was floored reading Patillo-Beals’ account of her time spent at Little Rock.

These students were some of the most courageous participants in the Civil Rights Movement. Not only did they endure physical harassment, including and incident in which a white student flung acid into Melba’s face nearly blinding her, but they couldn’t do anything about it. While being harassed in the cafeteria by a group of white boys, one of the Black students spilled her soup over them, either accidently or on purpose, resulting in her expulsion. To fight back was to let the segregationists win.

While I thought I was more or less aware of the violence that went along with the Civil Rights Movement, I was still shocked at the physical attacks that these teenagers faced every single day. It really puts things into perspective and provides a look at the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of a teenage girl.

Marissa Meyer – Cress (2014)

CressThis novel, the third installment of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, focuses heavily on the character of Cress, a futuristic Rapunzel who appears briefly in Cinder.

We learn that Cress is a shell, a Lunar girl born without powers, but having proven to be adept with technology is saved by one of Queen Levana’s servants and kept in an isolated satellite (much like Rapunzel’s tower). From here she is tasked with tracking and capturing Cinder, but uses the opportunity to have the crew come and save her. As expected, plans go awry and the different characters find themselves stranded in difficult situations.

Cress and Thorne are thrown together and end up lost in the Sahara desert while Cinder, Wolf and Lunar guard Jacin track down Dr. Erland in the North of Africa. The crew try and come up with a way to defeat Levana and intend to disrupt the royal wedding before traveling to Luna to start a rebellion.

We see less of Scarlet in this book as, having been captured by the Lunars is held as a prisoner on Luna. Her story is compelling however as it seems as though the Queen’s mentally unstable step-daughter shows an interest, and kindness to her. This step-daughter, Princess Winter, only appears briefly but probably has a much bigger role to play in the upcoming installment to be released in November.

There is a lot of keep track of in the book, and while I was disappointed when all the romances seem to be heading (I was pulling for Cinder and Thorn although that seems unlikely), I thought that this novel stood out from the previous two. There’s a lot of plot development and Meyer leaves the reading with a great deal to look forward to. It leaves off in an interesting place, and I cant wait to see how she resolves everything.

Hazel Rowley – Franklin and Eleanor (2010)

FranklinandEleanorIt’s pretty well agreed upon that there is a sense of romanticism that settles around FDR, as well as his wife Eleanor. FDR managed to lead a country through wartime while battling debilitating illnesses and Eleanor has been an inspiration to generations of women. It should not be surprising that two such extraordinary individuals had an extraordinary marriage, but it does as a President’s private life is often treated as just that, private.

In her novel, Hazel Rowley provides an intimate look at Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s partnership from the day that they met to the day of his death. She details the number of affairs that both, either formally known or suspected, engaged in and how the pair made their marriage work. Franklin was a notorious flirt and enjoyed the company of young women, while Eleanor also had her fair share of “special companions.”

I for one have always been a great admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a strong silent presence in Franklin’s life and always stood by him. While this may have caused her to have a bit of a martyr’s complex, having to play the role of a put-upon wife, she was always willing and ready to put the needs of others, especially her husband’s before her own. Franklin relied on Eleanor and in turn supported her causes where he could even when certain issues, such as Eleanor’s support for Civil Rights, could hurt Franklin’s popularity.

Even though the couple spent a great deal of time a part, especially during the later half of their marriage while Eleanor was traveling supporting her own causes and Franklin was constantly visiting other world leaders during the Second World War, their letters to one another show a level of tenderness and love. While they may have taken other lovers, it is very clear that Franklin and Eleanor were life partners and needed, and loved each other vey much.

Patrick Rothfuss – The Name of The Wind (2007)

NameOfTheWindAside from Game of Thrones, I don’t find that I read that many books that can be classified as Fantasy. I had this recommended to me by a friend though, and while I was a bit unsue at first (Fantasy books tend to be enormous), I’m so glad I read it.

While I tend to think of all Fantasy as being the same, battles with mystical creatures much like Lord of the Rings, etc, Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind proved to be something else entirely. It’s a bit strange actually, nothing really happens in this books, the first installment of a trilogy, and yet I was totally drawn in and compelled to keep reading.

We meet Kote, an innkeeper in a small town and learn that he is the fabled Kingkiller, one responsible for staring the current war, in hiding. He meets a scribe who wants to write down his story so Kote begins to relate his ubringing, the loss of his parents, and then his time spent at the University, which takes up the majority of the book. The University is like Hogwarts but a bit less fantastical. Kote, or Kovothe as he was then known, studies to be an arcanist learning the rules which govern sympathy, which is essentially a very specific type of magic. It’s hard to explain here, but Rothfuss does a good job in the novel. Kvothe’s goal is to learn the name of the wind and thus exercise power over it. Along the way Kvothe makes friends, and enemies, and well as tries to win the heart of Denna, a girl impossible to pin down, while trying to find out what he can about the mythical Chandrian who killed his parents.

The book ends, as I said, without many events occurring or any kind of dramatic climax, but it is clear that Rothfuss is setting the stage for the next two books. I have already started reading the second installment and hoping that there isn’t too long of a wait for the third.

Michael Pollan – Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (2013)

CookedHaving been a huge fan of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I decided to read another book penned by Michael Pollan. While his previous work was more of an investigative piece, this book is more about the history and science surrounding the way we eat. Split into four section, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, Pollan speaks about how important these four elements are to the way we cook our food.

He begins with fire, writing about the ways in which humans learned to cook with fire and the religious importance that fire held in traditional societies, especially when it came to animal sacrifice. He mentions the cooking hypothesis, the idea that cooking is what makes us different from animals, and talks at great length about the history of BBQ, from the racial tensions imbedded in the idea of “Southern BBQ,” to the ethical treatment of pigs, tying this work to his research in The Omnivore’s Dilemma,

While cooking with fire, especially smoking meat and BBQ with the highly ritualized pitmaster, has a more masculine tone, the second section of this book looks at the types of cooking deemed more feminine, mostly cooking with water. Not only does cooking with water often take more time (braises, stews, and other slow forms of cooking), but it is also more often then not carried out within the confines of a kitchen, as opposed to cooking with fire which takes place outside. The use of pots and pans for cooking is an important step in human evolution, but also brought cooking into the feminine domain.

The last two sections of Air and Earth focuses more on the science of food and how the food we eat embodies both life and death. With Air Pollan talks about making bread and how tricky it is to develop a “starter” in order to bring bread to life. This section also got very scientific dealing with the differences between whole grain and white grain, to how gluten intolerances work. Since I am obsessed with fermentation, I loved the Earth section, especially when Pollan learns to make cheese with the cheese nun. Foods like cheese and yogurt and other things created from bacterial cultures are essentially decaying, and remind us of our own mortality.

I really love the way Pollan writes, and his breakdown of this book into four elemental sections works to his advantage. Each section is accompanied by its own list of resources and recipe, which I will be trying soon. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in the history or science behind the way we cook.

Marissa Meyer – Scarlet (2014)

ScarletThis second installment of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles was not as good as her previous one, Cinder, but definitely sets the tone for some interesting future developments.

The Lunar Chronicles are a set of young adult dystopian future novels where earth is being threatened by Letumosis, a plague like disease as the evil Queen Levana from the moon colony of Luna attempts to take over. While the first novel focused on the cyborg Cinder of New Bejing, who turns out to be the lost Lunar Pricess Selene, this novel takes the reader to futureistic France where we meet Scarlet Benoit, an iteration of Little Red Riding Hood.

Tied up in Scarlet’s story are her grandmother, who as it turns out helped keep Princess Selene alive and spirited her away from Luna, as well as Wolf, a Lunar Operative who has a change of heart after falling in love with her. The characters were interesting, but I felt they were unnecessary to the story, although I could be wrong.

Since this is a young adult novel, I’m curious to know how romance will play a role, or if it will at all. It seemed as though Cinder was destined to be with the Emperor of the Commonwealth, but with the introduction of rouge Han Solo-like petty criminal Carswell Thorne, I’m not so sure. Aside from the Scarlet-Wolf Twilight-esque warwolf-y love story, romance doesn’t seem to have a key role to play which is refreshing.

Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles are entertaining and I’m looking forward to reading Cress, the third installment in the series.

Ed Catmull – Creativity Inc (2014)

CreativityIncWhen I saw that a history of Pixar Animation was being published I was so excited to read it, but my excitement was dampened somewhat what I realized that above all else, this book was attempting to be a guide to leadership along the lines of How to make Friends and Influence People. My fears however were unfounded.

While Catmull is definitely intending to provide managers of businesses with sound advice, he does so by talking about past projects he’s worked on at Pixar, both the failures and the massive successes. The innovations that company has introduced, things like the BrainTrust meetings, (essentially a brainstorming session where everyone involved in the project is included), are spoken about as tools that can be implemented in any workspace, although it is clear that Pixar is still a special company.

Any company that employs so many creative people will have to come up with outside-of-the-box ways to manage them and funnel that creativity into the final projects that we have grown to love and cherish; Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Up, and the most recent iteration, Inside Out. Through all these movies, the story remains key and it is really interesting to read how some movies like Up started with an entirely different plot, then watching all the twists and turns that took place along the way before arriving at what we watch on the big screen.

This isn’t a traditional history of the company or of Disney animation, and it will most likely be found under the “Business” section of bookstores. This shouldn’t deter you though, anyone who has ever cried or fallen in love with any one of Pixar’s movies will find the tale told between these pages to be charming and insightful.