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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

World Book Night: The Fourth Batch

This fourth batch of books was all over the spectrum not only of genre but of human emotion. I greatly enjoyed all five of these books, each of them in a different way and for a different reason

I’ve had trouble deciding what I want to write about The Handmaid’s Tale. I will never be able to do justice to Margaret Atwood’s genius. This was my second time around with Offred’s tale, and it ended up meaning even more to me than that first time (over ten years ago) when I read the entire novel in one evening while on vacation with my family. (I must interject here to say that I love that my family is one that reads on/for vacation. Thanks, Mom!) Reading The Handmaid’s Tale as an adult some twenty years after its publication made the novel all the more real and frightening. This is the best type of speculative fiction – this is a world we can imagine ours turning into and that is deeply disturbing. Even more than that, what makes this a good pick for World Book Night is how utterly absorbing it is. This is a book that is both difficult to read and impossible to put down.

On the opposite end of the spectrum we have Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens. I so loved every minute I spent with this book. It is riotously funny and irreverent and British. Things being British is always a plus. Good Omens tells us the story of an angel and a demon (best friends) who are sort of maybe trying to help the apocalypse along but they are really reluctant about it. Good Omens playfully upends religious conventions without ever being offensive or hateful – it’s all in good fun. And there are footnotes, really, who doesn’t love footnotes? Supremely fun read!

Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time by Michael Perry was the only other book on the WBN list that I hadn’t heard of (along with Glaciers) and I am so glad to have discovered it. Michael Perry is a writer, volunteer fireman, and first responder living in small town America. The stories he tells of his calls and partners introduce us not just to his town but to our world. This collection of short essays is perfect for WBN; the writing is solid, the characters are absolutely relatable, and the subject is simple – living life.

Paul Negri’s Favorite American Poems was a bit of a surprise when I first got
the World Book Night selection list. Suggesting poetry to reluctant readers? Good luck. But the more I thought about it as I read through this collection (reading a poem or two a day) the more I realized that there are people out there who are waiting for this book. Voltaire said that “poetry is the music of the soul.” Poetry moves us, it is passion and life’s blood. As reluctant as I would have been to choose this as my book to give out tonight, I have a feeling that of all the books on the list Favorite American Poems will be the one to rouse the most passion, rock the most souls, and change the most lives.

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan is exactly what I am looking for in works of history. Egan has put a human face (or collection of faces) onto the tales of the dustbowl. So often with stories disseminated through textbooks we are too far removed from the humanity at the core of the history to care on a personal, human level. With books like this we are reminded that history is nothing but the collected and archived actions of simple humans. People like you and I, people who have not changed – not just since the 30s but since people began to be people. The Worst Hard Time tells the story of the individuals who chose to stay in the heart of the dustbowl and suffered through “the dirty thirties.” It is a sad story, a human story, a triumphant story of spirit, and an abiding warning of ecology.

Tonight is the night! I still have not settled on exactly where I will be passing out my copies of Bossypants, but I know I’ll find the right hands and minds wherever I go. So looking forward to it.

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