Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Enjoy this last review from intrepid librarian Sarah as she heads off into a bright future:

Evicted : Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

evictedHarvard professor Matthew Desmond spent years in Milwaukee following tenants trying to find affordable housing. He also tracked landlords dealing with tenants who have fallen behind on their rent, and eventually end up evicted. This is a very timely piece, as housing prices are skyrocketing in most major cities, and people are struggling to find safe havens for their families. Desmond painstakingly looked at data in the housing market, eviction and court records to piece together a picture of a reality that has not been well researched.

There are lots of reports on low-income housing’s effectiveness and availability. What has been left behind are the people who are trying to make it in the regular rental market, as it can take years to get placed into low-income housing. The tenants’ life stories and fixed incomes can contribute to their ability (or inability) to pay rent each month. Desmond tries to humanize both the tenant experience, as well as the landlord business model, and the epic magnitude of our nation’s housing crisis. He argues that housing is a basic human right, especially in a country as wealthy as the United States.

His citations and research are a bit daunting, but his work is very readable and disseminated in simple terms. I appreciated his closing arguments, which provided ample plausible solutions. I was fascinated to find out our government spends more on tax breaks for home owners (i.e. mortgage interest deductions), than breaks for people trying to find a roof to live under. Being homeless can set off a wave of unfortunate circumstances. By supplying safe shelter to our citizens, we can begin the process of helping people chart their own success.

Urban Lit and Iceberg Slim

Enjoy this new post from Sarah:

Urban lit are the type of books that normally take place in a big city, and can take on dark undertones, demonstrating the gritty side of urban living. These books can be graphic, explicit, and don’t always have happy endings.

Iceberg Slimstreetpoison (i.e. Robert Beck) is considered to be one of the great urban lit authors. Both Ice-T and Ice Cube pay homage to him in their names. His novel Pimp sold over 2 million copies, which is remarkable considering it never made it into mainstream bookstores and was primarily purchased in grocery stores and barber shops.

Robert Beck was born in Chicago and was exposed early on to life on the streets. He was mesmerized by women, pimps, and the possibility of easy and fast money. He briefly attended college, but was lured back to the streets and was determined to become the best pimp ever.

When he got incarcerated, he became a self-taught man, reading copious amounts of books in prison libraries. He also studied pimping from his fellow inmates, gleaning knowledge from an oral tradition known as the pimp book. To succeed at pimping, one must utilize a mixture of psychological manipulations, violence, and maintain control at all times. Gifford does an excellent job of bringing the reader into the mindset of the pimp, and how one can become “street poisoned.”

Beck spent years alternating between the high life of pimping – leisure suits, fancy clubs, lots of cash, and then spending years behind bars in some of American’s hardest prisons. When he retired from pimping, he settled down, had children, and that’s when he began to write. His writing is honest, brutal and crude, and opened people’s eyes to the dark underside of urban cities in the 40s and 50s.

Some authors popular in the urban lit genre include Nikki Turner, K’Wan, and Donald Goines.  We have a display up at the main library displaying some urban titles, come check them out!

urbanlit

Boy Scouts, Marital Strife and California Cults: Three Reviews from Sarah

Do you need a good book to read? Of course you do. Get three excellent reading recommendations from Sarah right here.

The Troop by Nick Cutter

thetroopA group of young boy scouts are on a weekend trip on a remote island off Prince Edward Island. An extremely ill and disturbed man makes contact with their camp, and it’s quickly apparent that he is not long for this world. He’s got an insatiable hunger, and as their scout master attempts medical intervention, he inadvertently exposes them all to the pathogen. The pathogen ends up being a genetically modified tape worm, gone viral and out of control. The military has quarantined the island, and unbeknownst to the young boys, they are on their own. This story gave me chills, and the grotesque descriptions of one’s body becoming consumed from the inside are extremely disturbing. Stephen King gave this rave reviews, and I agree.

Carousel Court  by Joe McGinniss Jr.

carouselcourtNick and Phoebe are in a tough place. They moved to Southern California to start over with their small son. Instead of opportunity, they are stuck with an underwater house in a neighborhood besieged with foreclosures. Crime is rampant and morale is low. Phoebe works in medical sales, and is battling her own addiction to painkillers. Nick is making ends meet, working odd jobs and cleaning out bank possessed properties. Their marriage is stressed, and their young son neglected. Each party sets off on their own secretive path to secure the family’s financial footing. Unbeknownst to each other, their choices will soon catapult them into further catastrophe. This reminds me of a modern version of Revolutionary Road, but with more animosity and spite between the spouses.

The Girls by Emma Cline

thegirlsIt’s 1969 in Northern California. 14 year old Evie stumbles across a group of free spirited girls living at an abandoned ranch. The girls all adore an older man named Russell and yearn for his affection. He assures them of a new spiritual awakening and offers free love. Evie totters back and forth between drug induced freedom at the ranch and her stereotypical teenage life with high school and bickering parents. She struggles for acceptance, individuality and finding her place in the world. Evie is especially drawn to a charismatic girl named Suzanne, who mesmerizes Evie with her nonchalance and freedom. This is a dark story about influence and power and a superb debut from Emma Cline.

Two by Liz Moore

Liz Moore has produced two of librarian Sarah’s favorites in recent years. Enjoy her reviews of both of them.

The Unseen World

unseenworldAda Sibelius was home-schooled by her father David. A prestigious scientist, David ran a university research laboratory and raised Ada to think independently and embedded her love of cryptography. The pinnacle of David’s work is an artificial intelligence program named ELIXIR. When David begins to show the beginning signs of Alzheimer’s, Ada is sent to live with one of his colleagues and her three adolescent boys. As David’s past starts to unravel, it’s determined that he may have not been forthright about his childhood and upbringing. As Ada struggles with her own teenage turmoil, she attempts to uncover the truth about her father and the ELIXIR program. Moore does a superb job of bringing together smart characters and emotionally charged circumstances. A truly graceful story about identity, love and science.

Heft

heftArthur Opp used to be a successful university professor. But things are different now. He lives alone, in the house he inherited from his parents. He doesn’t venture outside and has all of his meals and necessities delivered. Morbidly obese at over 500 pounds, Arthur is trapped in a cycle of overeating, anxiety and depression.

While he was teaching, he befriended a young student, Charlene. They developed a close relationship and remained pen pals for years. Arthur misrepresented himself in his letters and when Charlene proposes to meet up, he is forced to reconcile his surroundings and lifestyle. Nervous about the condition of his house, Arthur turns to a maid service and young, energetic Yolanda shows up on his front doorstep. Arthur hasn’t let anyone into his life for years and they develop a special friendship based on mutual acceptance and openness.

Liz Moore does a magnificent job of harnessing the human desire to connect. She does an outstanding job of conveying social anxiety, embarrassment and shame in her characters, without making them seem weak or hopeless.

New Reviews From Sarah

Here are two new reviews from Sarah. For more of Sarah’s reviews, and lots of other great stuff, head over to our Facebook page.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

VegetarianThis novel won the Man Booker Prize for fiction, and I was concerned it might be too “literary” for my tastes. But it’s easily accessible, and I devoured it in two days.  The title, while accurate, is pretty nondescript at explaining this complex work. Yeong-hye, an obedient and solemn wife, decides to quit eating meat, after she has a disturbing nightmare. No one in her family can understand her reasoning, or her consequent retreat into herself. Yeong-hye’s emotions seem to shut down, as she rejects those closest to her, and isolates. Her brother-in-law, an artist who has lost inspiration, becomes obsessed with Yeong-hye. His artistic vision requires her participation in an explicit sensual piece of performance art. In-hye, Yeong-hye’s sister, struggles with her own mental fragility, as she attempts to assist her ailing sister. Kang follows each character’s unique mental stability, delusions and dreams. It’s challenging to determine which character is falling into madness. This is truly a unique and dark look at the human mind, connections and instinct.

Kill Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride

killemandleaveJames McBride, National Book Award winner and musician in his own right, sets off to explore the roots of the iconic soul legend, James Brown. James Brown led a complicated life, and he was a very secretive man. Few people were let into his inner circle, and he purposefully kept his fans and entourage at a distance. Brown was born in South Carolina in extreme poverty, spent his adolescence with extended family and got interested in music at a young age. McBride delves deep into Brown’s past, interviewing past band members, family members and those who knew Brown best. This biography isn’t chronological, but collates a myriad of personal recollections, attempting to find the real James Brown. Unbeknown to me, James Brown informally adopted Al Sharpton, helping to shape the civil rights leader’s career and focus. McBride’s writing is easily digestible, and he provides a lyrical account of the racial environments that produced a legend. One of the best books I’ve read this year, and McBride may have set himself up for another award.

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

Enjoy Sarah’s latest book review and, as always, check out our Facebook page for more reviews from Sarah and the latest happenings at Everett Public Library.

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

miller's valleyMimi Miller is the youngest of her siblings, and grows up on a rural farm. The land has been in her family for generations. The government is attempting to buy out homesteads, in an effort to flood the valley, and create a public recreational area.  Mimi’s family is stubborn and her parents are refusing to budge. Mimi’s eldest brother moves to the city, and embarks on a career and family. Her next eldest brother tries to escape the monotony of country living, enlists in the military, and completes several tours of Vietnam. At home, Mimi is determined to find her own path to independence. An emotionally fragile aunt takes up residence on their property. Mimi navigates romantic interests throughout high school, while maintaining high academic success. When her time comes, will she be ready to make her mark? Quindlen’s latest saga is a timeless tale of family drama: the ties that bind, and the ties that break.

Seattle Events in Truth and Fiction

Here are two new book reviews from Sarah about events in the Emerald city. Make sure to check out our Facebook page for more reviews from Sarah and the latest happenings at Everett Public Library.

While the City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent into Madness by Eli Sanders

whilethecitysleptIn 2009, Isaiah Kalebu broke into a home in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle, and brutally raped and attempted to kill two women, Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper.  While the women were able to escape, Teresa’s injuries were fatal, and Jennifer survived as the only witness.

This is a true crime story, but journalist Eli Sanders does something more than report the horrific facts. He investigates the backstory of Teresa and Jennifer’s lives, tells how they met and fell in love, and details the planning of their upcoming nuptials.

Sanders then delves into Isaiah’s story. He recounts how his parents’ turbulent and violent marriage dissolved. He talks of family members increased concern over Isaiah’s welfare and ability to deal with reality. Throughout the years there were many attempts at intervention to get Isaiah help for mental instability. As Isaiah grows into a young adult, he is plagued by delusions, possibly inherited from his mother’s side, where many struggled with schizophrenia and other afflictions. He never receives any formal psychiatric intervention.

What Sanders tries to do is to rationalize how Isaiah may have ended up in Teresa and Jennifer’s house. And look at what resources may have been able to prevent such a violent and terrible act.

With reduced budgets, and strained workloads, it’s utterly disturbing to realize the inadequacies of our mental health and court systems. Sanders eloquently blasts the systems that failed to prevent Isaiah from his crimes, and ultimately failed to protect Teresa and Jennifer.

This book is deemed to be an unfortunate new classic in true crime writing, with an overpowering sense of love between two women, and a rational voice for change.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

yourheartisamuscleThis is hands down one of the best books published in 2016 so far.

This book is set against the backdrop of the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, back in 1999. Sunil Yapa invokes empathy and consideration for all sides involved. Victor, a young nomad, is back in Seattle, after traveling the world and objecting to injustice. He’s at the protests to make a statement and sell as much weed as possible. A young anarchist couple, dedicated to treating pepper spray victims, are on the scene to help the wounded. The police chief is in over his head, and two of his on-duty officers interpret the protesters in extremely contrasting ways. One of the WTO delegates, a representative from Sri Lanka, paints a sobering picture of his country’s peril, and of his overwhelming desire to help his constituency.

Yapa’s plot builds substantially, as the violence in the protests escalates. His character’s flaws are revealed with superb timing, and he does a great job of describing Seattle’s downtown core.

Everyone involved in the protests had a valid reason for their participation. Seeing the other point of view is not a simple task, but one he does with grace among a day filled with angst.