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A Few Good Books: February 2016

by Emily M | Feb 17, 2016

Looking for a good book recommendation? Look no further!  Here’s a few good books I’ve enjoyed recently:

Negroland: A MemoirNegroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson

Negroland is the story of Margo Jefferson, born in Chicago in 1947, to a doctor father and socialite mother.  As an African-American born to upper-middle class, educated parents, she refers to the phenomenon of her upbringing as “Negroland,” which she defines as “a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.”  Jefferson recounts her childhood, attending one of the few elite, private schools in Chicago that would accept African-Americans, but was still mostly white, and socializing with other educated, upper-middle class, African-American children who were the children of her parents’ friends and colleagues.  Deftly describing the constant pressure she was under to always present herself a certain way, to always be dignified and respectable in front of white people, how, despite doing everything “right” she still faced discrimination and oppression, she states:

    "We were the third race.  We cared for our people – we loved our people – but we refused to be held back by the lower element.  We did not love white people, we did not care for most of them, but we envied them and sometimes we feared and hated them.  Our daily practice was suspicion, caution at the very least.  Preemptive disdain."

As Jefferson comes of age during the civil rights movement and the rise of the black power movement, she finds her upbringing is now, in some ways, a detriment.  The way she speaks, her tastes, her economic means make her, to some, not black enough.  In her twenties, as she grapples with the construct of her identity, she sinks into depression and contemplates suicide.  Even as the book draws to a close, it becomes clear that while Jefferson is approaching age 70 and has reached great personal success and accomplishment (in 1995 she won a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism), she still has not come to terms with her racial and socioeconomic identity; at times throughout the book, she refers to herself in the third person, separating herself from her experiences. 

Negroland is a difficult book to read, but also an important and powerful one, exploring the intersection of class and race. 


PeaceLikeARiverPeace Like a River by Leif Enger

Told from the perspective of an adult looking back on events of his childhood, Peace Like a River is the story of 12-year-old Rueben Land growing up in Minnesota in the early 1960s.  Rueben’s father, a deeply religious man, is raising Rueben, his older brother, Davy, and his younger sister, Swede, alone after their mother abandoned them.  Rueben’s father is able to follow Christ’s teachings to turn the other cheek, Rueben’s brother is not, and when their family is threatened, Davy takes justice into his own hands.  Davy’s actions send the entire family on an unexpected journey that will end in tragedy.  With writing that is lovely and sparse, Enger blends religious mysticism with all the grit and glory of an old western.

GardenSpellsGarden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

The Waverleys are a peculiar family, blessed (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with curious gifts.  These gifts are likely rooted in the magic of an enchanted apple tree that grows in the garden of the Waverley’s family home.  Claire utilizes her gift to run a successful small business, content to keep to herself, only socializing with her elderly cousin, the only other Waverly remaining in her hometown, while tending to her family home.  Her life is upended when her older sister Sydney, who high-tailed it out of town and as far away from the Waverley legacy as possible upon graduating high school, shows up on Claire’s doorstep after ten years without communication, small daughter in tow.  Forced together again as Sydney flees her abusive boyfriend, Claire and Sydney must grapple with their broken relationship and wounds of the past.

An easy, endearing read, Garden Spells effectively mixes small-town charm with magical realism for enchanting results.

What good books have you read lately?

EmilyLong before becoming a librarian, Emily was an avid library patron. She enjoys reading fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, biographies, and classic children’s literature. Her favorite book is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.


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