Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Let Freedom Ring

The Civil Rights Movement in the United States didn’t begin or end with the March on Washington, but it was certainly one of the defining moments of that struggle.  This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington.  A new book, Let Freedom Ring, is a collection of the iconic photographs taken by Stanley Tretick on that historic day.  Many of these images are being seen for the first time in this book.  Accompanying the images are some background text and brief excerpts from the speeches of that day.

The formal name of that historic march was “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”.  Participants came from across the country seeking justice for all, but especially for African Americans who were not only enduring brutality and violence in the south, but poverty, discrimination and hopelessness everywhere.  Organizers and marchers included black and white, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews.  

Of course the one moment of the event that more than any other has remained with us is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech.  What many do not know is that those unforgettable lines were not part of his prepared text, but came to him at the podium.   While reading those words, his voice seemed to leap off the page and they gave me goosebumps.

One Thousand and One Nights by Hanan al-Shaykh

Shahrazad was a product of the imagination.  One Thousand and One nights are a collection of stories, originally written in Arabic in 1450.  Shahrazad, is the beautiful young wife of the murderous King Shahrayar.  The King takes a new wife each night and murders her in the morning.  Shahrazad will not allow herself to be victimized.  To save herself she spins a web of tales that remain unfinished each morning.  The King must spare her life for another day to learn how the tale ends.  In this way she saves herself.

Acclaimed Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh has selected nineteen of these stories and retold them in modern English in a new book, One Thousand and One Nights.  The stories that Hanan al-Shaykh includes are those of strong women.  Conartisty, justice, and love are common themes.  In the forward, Mary Gaitskill notes that many of the stories are dark and full of cruelty, but the animating spirit is light because of the resourceful and witty female characters.

For over 500 years, the character of Shahrazad has found its way in music, literature, poetry, and many other art forms.  It’s great to have a new version available for patrons who wish to read this great work of literature.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Pirate Captain's daughter by Eve Bunting

Ever since I was young, I have enjoyed stories of pirates and adventure.  Eve Bunting’s recent young adult novel, The Pirate Captain’s Daughter, is not your usual swashbuckling story.  

Catherine DeVault knows her father is a pirate.  When Catherine’s mother dies, she talks her father into allowing her to dress up as a boy and accompany him on his ship.  Her father reluctantly agrees, knowing full well that the decision could have dire consequences for them both.  Catherine knows there are dangers everywhere when she discovers a plan to steal something from her father.  As “Charlie” she goes aboard her father’s ship, as his son.  A little too late, she identifies the potential thieves as a couple of the pirates on board. The young cabin boy William soon discovers that she is a girl but swears he will not disclose that information. Life aboard ship becomes more and more dangerous for them all.

It seems obvious that the gritty realism with which Bunting tells the story is much closer to reality than the swashbuckling tales we often read; like food full of all sorts of creatures, betrayal, and horrible cruelty. There is also kindness and love.  It’s refreshing to see a new take on an old story. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pepper: A history of the world's most influential spice by Marjorie Shaffer

How often do we think of where the ingredients in our food come from.  Not often for most of us. Do we ever give much thought to the history of our food?  Probably even less so.  A new book in the non-fiction section, Pepper: A history of the world’s most influential spice by Marjorie Shaffer, is a fascinating look at the history of one of our most common household spices.

Pepper is a very fussy plant – it grows only in the tropical soil of India.  This made it rare and expensive: and many throughout history have risked their lives in pursuit of the profits that could be made from it.  The pepper trade began long before explorers sought routes through North and South America.  The ancient Romans and Greeks had storehouses where their spices were kept, and as various conquerors plundered and regimes changed, the taste for pepper, and its power, grew.  Shaffer explores the contribution of the English, Dutch, and Portuguese and the role of the Jesuit missionaries in the pepper trade.  Pepper was responsible for the first American intervention in Southeast Asia in the mid nineteenth century.

This spicy book is well researched, and offers a look at history as it has not been seen before.