May is one of my favourite months. Between the warmth and the flowers, it has a lot going for it. Adding to our enjoyment, we’ve had the pleasure of picking up some great reading materials this month. It has been an interesting month around here with holidays, weather running from freezing to boiling, and even a new bridge named for a hockey legend. Not a bad start for spring. To me, there’s nothing quite like sitting down outside this time of year with a cup of coffee (or tea I suppose) and enjoying a good book.
Here’s what WPL read this month:
Oddly enough, I have never read a lot of graphic novels. With the popularity of the genre these days, I keep meaning to read more yet never seem to get around to it. I suppose I shouldn’t say never though, as this month I read the seminal graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore. The only regret that I came away with from this one? I wish I had read it sooner.
You may be familiar with this story from the 2009 movie by the same name. (You can find a copy of the movie by clicking here.) Not to dip into clichés, but the movie just doesn’t do the graphic novel justice. I came away utterly impressed by this, and disappointed that it wasn’t my sixth or seventh time reading the piece.
From the fantastic art, to the important philosophical questions, to the sub-story being told via the Tales of the Black Freighter, every aspect of Moore’s work functions together and creates a masterpiece. Delving into alternate history and placing his “heroes” in key parts of Americana, the story follows a group of crime fighters who pick up the trade after having walked away years earlier. I especially enjoyed exploring the dark sides of their heroic deeds and personalities, and the questions which arose about the nature of good and evil. Watchmen comes together as a fantastic story which is definitely worth reading more than once.
As the second book in the Reckoners trilogy, Firefight is the action packed follow-up to Sanderson’s Steelheart. Set in a dystopian United States, the book takes place in a futuristic Chicago and New York after what everyone calls Calamity occurred. Humans still live, but overpowering them are groups of Epics, humans that have been transformed with super human abilities and strengths. The Reckoners are a group of citizens, led by the very secretive Prof, who are attempting to take back their cities from the Epics. In Firefight, they have a very difficult battle against Regalia, the Epic of Manhattan. She has astonishing powers with water, and has essentially flooded Babilar (Manhattan) and forced its citizens to take refuge in the top floors of the high rises. David Charleston, the main character and a member of the Reckoners will be a central figure in trying to stop Regalia and bring back justice to Babilar’s citizens. I’m thoroughly enjoying this Young Adult series and am eagerly waiting the final installment next year, titled Calamity. Even if you aren’t an avid science fiction reader, these books are bound to please with their adventure, mystery and action.
I’ve been doing not too shabbily with my resolution to read more non-fiction in 2015. My most recent foray was Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
Ronson examines the role of Twitter and other social media in bringing heinous acts to light – and the way that power can be abused. He cites examples of Twitter users affecting positive change by shaming big corporations for their unjust policies, acknowledging the potential for social good. But he juxtaposes this with accounts of ordinary people whose lives were ruined by a furious online reaction to their thoughtless, unintentionally offensive Facebook posts, tweets or photos – people who were threatened with physical harm, dismissed from their jobs, and suffered psychological trauma similar to PTSD.
It could be easy to view So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed as a cautionary tale against posting tactless things on the interwebs (I kept silently congratulating myself for my relatively low-profile social media presence) but Ronson is really commenting on bigger issues – social control through shaming, and psychological ramifications of what effectively amounts to vicious bullying. He speaks to a prison psychiatrist who claims that the most violent criminals he encountered were exposed to horrific situations during childhood which caused them to feel such shame that they were scarred psychologically, accounting for their anti-social behaviour. He draws parallels to public floggings in Puritan New England, and conjectures on the long-term societal effects of that kind of shaming.
Ronson’s clear-eyed, pithy style makes this book an engaging, thought-provoking read – not only did I ruminate on the kinds of things we post online, but the way we treat others – how it easy it is, under Internet-sanctioned anonymity, to be cruel rather than being kind.
While most authors shy away from approaching the topic of race, Paul Beatty has a long history of confronting the questions and contradictions of racial identity with a humorous tone. His previous novels, such as The White Boy Shuffle (1996), approached ideas of cultural appropriation, racism, and black identity with Swiftian-satire and prose that mixed the beatific with brutal realism. This trend continues in the author’s latest novel, The Sellout (2015), and asks a question very few contemporary authors dare to posit: what does it mean to be black?
The Sellout opens with Me, a black farmer from the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens, L.A. who is on trial in front of the US Supreme Court on counts of slavery and attempting to “re-segregate” his community. The rest of the novel retraces the events that led Me to his current situation, from his childhood being subjected to racially charged psychological experiments by his father, to his adult friendship with Hominy Jenkins, the last surviving member of the Little Rascals cast. Beatty’s deconstruction of racial stereotypes may not make for light reading, but the genuine humour of the novel makes this bitter medicine all the more sweeter to swallow. The Sellout is another thought-provoking work from one of America’s greatest living writers and may be the most important novel released this year.
That’s what your library read this month. Thanks for reading!