Archive for September, 2010

Read Irresponsibly!

Next week is Banned Books Week, a good time to celebrate our freedom to READ!  (Not to be confused with “Bland Book Week” – completely different topic…)

One of the great benefits of our democracy is that we prize the the right to intellectual freedom. Banned Books Week highlights the importance of upholding that right – all views  can be expressed and heard, even if they are unpopular.

Some of the most frequently challenged works are also considered among the classics in American or World literature (does that prove that one man’s trash is another’s treasure?). Consider this list of titles challenged during the 20th Century:

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

6. Ulysses by James Joyce

7. Beloved by Toni Morrison

8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

9. 1984 by George Orwell

10. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov

11. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

12. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

13. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

14. Animal Farm by George Orwell

15. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

16. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

17. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

18. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

19. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

20. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison


Have Fun Reading Irresponsibly!

Idaho Fiction

Vintage postcard

Some places lend their characteristics to fiction a little easier than others. If I gave you the name of a state, you may be able to name two or three works of fiction that are set there (Quick: Georgia). Idaho is slowly coming into its own in terms of sense of place. For many years, we’ve often been overshadowed by some of the flashier Western states (I’m looking at you Montana), but I think our turn in the spotlight is just beginning.

Here are a few titles, some written by Idaho authors, but all with a great sense of their Idaho settings. Try a few and see if you can get an idea of what it means to live and breathe in this state (and see if you can recognize familiar places!).

As usual, the annotations are courtesy of NoveList Plus and those with an * are highly recommended by yours truly.


Across Open Ground by Heather Parkinson

  • As World War I draws closer, seventeen-year-old novice sheep herder Walter Pascoe and his lover, trapper Trina Ivy, must face personal trials and losses as Walter is drafted into the military and sent abroad to fight.


All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki*

  • Returning home to the Idaho potato farm she fled twenty-five years earlier, Yumi struggles with her father’s terminal illness, her mother’s Alzheimer’s, her former best friend, and a former lover who once offended the town.


Blackbelly by Heather Sharfeddin

  • Sharfeddin weaves elements of suspense and the supernatural through this accomplished western about an ornery loner of a sheep rancher, Chas McPherson, who hires a home health-care nurse, Mattie Holden, to care for his dying father, a once powerful, wrathful preacher now incapacitated by Parkinson’s.


The Blight Way by Patrick McManus

  • Idaho sheriff Bo Tully’s hopes about a rekindled romance with his high-school sweetheart are challenged by his father’s upcoming seventy-fifth birthday celebration and a ranch murder involving numerous possible suspects.


Blue Heaven by C.J. Box*

  • A twelve-year-old girl and her younger brother go on the run in the woods of North Idaho, pursued by four men they have just watched commit murder–four men who know exactly who William and Annie are, and who know exactly where their desperate mother is waiting for news of her children’s fate.


Cover of Night by Linda Howard

  • The owner of a struggling B&B in a picturesque Idaho town, Cate Nightingale, a young widow and mother, is forced to turn for help to her mysterious handyman, Calvin Harris, when a trio of vicious thugs threatens her and the entire town.


A Country Called Home by Kim Barnes

  • Driven by youthful idealism, Thomas Deracotte and his pregnant wife, Helen, leave upper-crust Connecticut for a Utopian adventure in the Idaho wilderness, purchasing a dilapidated local farm and optimistically setting up housekeeping with the help of a local boy.


Deep Creek by Dana Hand*

  • Investigating the discovery of forty murdered Chinese gold miners in a 19th-century Idaho territory lake, lawman Joe Vincent teams up with an ambitious company researcher and a metis mountain guide to track the killers across the Pacific Northwest.


Faraway Places by Tom Spanbauer*

  • A boy on an isolated rural Idaho farm during the 1950s tells about a murder.


Five Skies by Ron Carlson*

  • Working together on a summer construction project high in the Rocky Mountains, drifter Arthur Key, shiftless Ronnie Panelli, and foreman Darwin Gallegos reveal details about their pasts and beliefs in cautious and profound ways.


Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

  • Ruth, a young girl struggling to overcome haunting family memories in a town which will not ler her forget, gradually grows close to Sylvie, the sister of her dead mother.


Lake Overturn by Vestal McIntyre

  • Follows a year in the lives of a Cold War-era trailer community in Idaho, where single moms Lina and Connie struggle with their sons’ exploits, their economic disadvantages, and the edicts of faith.


Leaving Normal by Stef Ann Holm

  • Divorced and the mother of a college-bound daughter, Natalie is enjoying dating her neighbor, but they disagree over the possibility of having more children, until Natalie’s daughter comes home with a surprise addition that may change their lives forever.


Print the Legend by Craig McDonald

  • Questioning the widow of the late Ernest Hemingway, crime novelist Hector Lassiter fears that a surviving Hemingway manuscript may compromise his own reputation; while Professor Richard Paulson harbors suspicions that the author’s daughter murdered him.


Season of the Snake by Claire Davis

  • Remarrying years after the death of her first husband, scientist Nance challenges her personal demons by tracking rattlesnakes in Idaho, unaware of factors from her new husband’s past that challenge her relationship with her younger sister.


The Sheep Queen by Thomas Savage

  • Chronicles five generations of an American sheep-ranching dynasty, focusing on the beautiful daughter, Elizabeth, who threatens the family’s unity and her own identity, and details the lives of Elizabeth’s two husbands and her son.


Then Came the Evening by Brian Hart

  • Eighteen years after being sent to prison for a violent crime, Vietnam veteran Bandy Dorner is finally released and is soon visited by the wife who cheated on him and his teenage son, prompting the three of them to explore whether they belong together as a family.


While You Rest on Labor Day…

A woman working in a California shipyard during WWII.

Today, the idea of Labor brings to mind the end of summer, the beginning of the school year, and the start of the football seasons, but its meaning goes back to the 19th Century. It began with local unions using the day to celebrate a “workingman’s holiday”. It gained wide acceptance in 1894, when Congress passed a federal law to set aside the day. (It was seen as an appeasement to unions, after the bloody strikes of the time.)

Although we don’t see the same sort of celebrations for the holiday (union picnics, political speeches, parades) as we did in the past, we still take the day off as a reward for hard work.  And we should remember to celebrate the people who have helped to make life better  for others – what a better way to celebrate than to read one of these books about the history of labor in America? (Annotations are courtesy of the Library catalog and NoveList Plus. Titles  with an * are highly recommended by me!)


American Workers, American Unions: The Twentieth Century by Robert H. Zieger and Gilbert Gall

  • A history of American laborers from the beginnings of the twentieth century, through two world wars, to the technological revolution.


The Battle of Blair Mountain: The Story of America’s Largest Labor Uprising by Robert Shogan

  • A national political correspondent for Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times illuminates the war between union miners and their bosses in West Virginia in 1921, a conflict that eventual widened to involve federal troops.


Before Their Time: The World of Child Labor by David L. Parker

  • Citing the millions of children who are working under dangerous and exploitative conditions worldwide, a visual tour of the daily lives of child laborers offers insight into how economic disadvantages and unscrupulous systems are perpetuating child labor practices.


Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century by Randy Shaw

  • Describes the social changes Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers of America helped accomplish that have endured in the twenty-first century, including the building of Latino political power and the fight for environmental justice.


Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands by Katherine Benton-Cohen

  • Chronicles the history of race relations in Cochise County, Arizona, focusing on Sheriff Harry Wheeler’s 1917 arrest and deportation of two thousand striking Mexican miners.


Child Labor: An American History by Hugh D. Hindman

  • The author traces the history of child labor and reform in the US, drawing upon primary sources to portray this issue in six key industries, and examines the legacy of US child labor history for a global economy.


The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement by Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval

  • This companion volume to a PBS documentary reflects a vivid appreciation of how Chavez’s organizing activities, dating from 1962, enabled one of society’s most vulnerable worker groups to assert dignity, claim rights, and ultimately change a powerful industry’s whole way of doing business.


From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend: A Short, Illustrated History of Labor in the United States by Priscilla Murolo

  • A history of labor in the United States, capturing the full range of working people’s struggles, from indentured servants and slaves in the seventeenth-century Chesapeake to high-tech workers in contemporary Silicon Valley. (From the book’s jacket)


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck*

  • The Joad family, Okie farmers forced from their dustbowl home during the Depression, try to find work as migrant fruitpickers in California.


Hard Work: The Making of Labor History by Melvyn Dubofsky

  • An exploration of some of American labor’s central themes by a giant in the field, Hard Work is also a compelling narrative of how one scholar was drawn to labor history as a subject of study and how his approach to it changed over time.


Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America by Elliott J. Gorn

  • Inspired by his life-long support for labor, Gorn presents a biography of Mary Jones (1837-1930), who as Mother Jones remains one of the best known and best loved organizers and agitators in the US. He recounts her rabble-rousing during strikes at coal mines, steel mills, railroads, textile factories, breweries, and other hot spots across the country.


Rekindling the Movement: Labor’s Quest for Relevance in the Twenty-First Century by Lowell Turner

  • A distinguished group of authors examines this resurgence and the potential of American unions with sympathetic yet critical eyes. Experts from a wide variety of disciplines — industrial relations, political science, economics, and sociology — identify the central developments, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the new initiatives, and assess the progress made and the prospects for the future.


Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford

  • Based on his own experience as an electrician and mechanic, Crawford makes a case for the intrinsic satisfactions and cognitive challenges of manual work. The work of builders and mechanics is secure; it cannot be outsourced, and it cannot be made obsolete. Such work ties us to the local communities in which we live, and instills the pride that comes from doing work that is genuinely useful.


State of the Union: A Century of American Labor by Nelson Lichtenstein

  • Lichtenstein provides a knowledgeable overview of the signal events since the Wagner Act of 1935, from unions’ identification with male-dominated heavy industries to their membership today, which consists predominantly of government and service workers and teachers.


Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by Dave Von Drehle*

  • Triangle is the dramatic story of the fire that broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City in 1911. Within minutes the flames spread to consume the building’s upper three stories. People on the street watched in horror as desperate workers jumped to their deaths. The final toll was 146 people-123 of them women. It chronicles in harrowing detail the fire and gives an insightful look at how this tragedy transformed politics and gave rise to urban liberalism.


Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by Studs Terkel

  • Studs Turkel records the voices of America. Men and women from every walk of life talk to him, telling him of their likes and dislikes, fears, problems, and happinesses on the job. Once again, Turkel has created a rich and unique document that is as simple as conversation, but as subtle and heartfelt as the meaning of our lives….