Monday, August 22, 2016

Readalikes: If you enjoyed August's selection . . .

If you enjoyed Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, then you might also like these books recommended by our discussion group members:

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
  • Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward
  • The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs
  • One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life--A Story of Race and Family Secrets by Bliss Broyard
  • The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
  • Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family by Condoleeza Rice
  • Passing: A  Novel by Nella Larson

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

August Not Fiction Book Discussions

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a memoir written in the form of a letter from an African American father to his adolescent son. Coates describes for his son his own coming of age and awakening of consciousness to his place in American history and culture. He also expresses his concerns for his son as he makes his way through a society that is still fraught with danger for African Americans. His work challenges all readers to contemplate our country's painful history of slavery and racism and our current civil rights crisis by considering what it is like to live in America in a black body, in a culture built upon the exploitation of black bodies.

Coates chose to write his memoir in the form of a letter to his son in the tradition of James Baldwin's Letter to My Nephew in his book The Fire the Next Time. Why do you think Coates chose this literary format? What was the effect for you of reading about Coates' life and thoughts on our history and culture through the intimate format of a letter addressed to his son?

Coates writes to his son, "When I was your age, the only people I knew were black, and all of them were powerfully, adamantly, dangerously afraid" (14). The title of the book, Between the World and Me, is taken from Richard Wright's poem of the same title. How did fear shape Coates' life and view of the world? Why do you think he chose this title for his book?

Coates argues in Between the World and Me that race, which has been such an important and controversial concept in American history and culture, is a flawed concept. He says, "Race is the child of racism, not the father" (7). How does discrediting the concept of race change how we understand our past and present?

Coates uses several terms that have been important in American culture and in the civil rights movement, the Dream and the Struggle, but he complicates and questions what they mean. What do the Dream and the Struggle come to mean to Coates? What connotations did these terms have for you before reading Coates' book? Has he complicated their meaning for you?

In Between the World and Me, Coates says, "I have spent much of my studies searching for the right question by which I might fully understand the breach between the world and me. . . . the questions matter as much, perhaps more than, the answers" (115-16). While Coates sees himself as a writer rather than an activist, critics of Between the World and Me have argued that because he is so well respected, he should attempt to offer answers to and provide hope for the troubling questions surrounding America's race relations. Do you think he holds any responsibility to offer answers, solve problems, or offer hope? Why or why not?

We hope you will join the discussion of one of the most timely and talked-about books this year: Tuesday, August 2, at 6:30 p.m. at Main Library; Thursday, August 18, at 11:00 a.m. at West Ashley Branch Library; and here on the blog.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Readalikes: If you enjoyed July's selection . . .

If you enjoyed Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, then you might also like these podcasts, journal articles, books, and Tumblr blogs suggested by our discussion members:


  • More Perfect by Radiolab and WNYC Radio. "Supreme Court decisions shape everything from marriage and money to public safety and sex. We know these are very important decisions we should all pay attention to – but they often feel untouchable and even unknowable. Radiolab's first ever spin-off series, More Perfect, connects you to the decisions made inside the court's hallowed halls, and explains what those rulings mean for "we the people" who exist far from the bench. More Perfect bypasses the wonkiness and tells stories behind some of the court's biggest rulings."

Journal articles


  • The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court  and other titles by Jeffrey Toobin.
  • Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World by Linda Hirshman.
  • Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians V. The Supreme Court by Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price.
  • The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong.

Tumblr blogs

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

July Not Fiction Book Discussions

This month we will consider a book that grew out of a new format for biography: Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik. Ginsburg is, of course, a member of SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States), the second woman ever appointed to that court.

Like Gloria Steinem, Ginsburg has become an icon of feminism for millennials, and the book Notorious RBG had it's first incarnation in an online format millennials are very comfortable with, the microblogging and social networking website Tumblr. After Ginsburg's dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014), in which the majority ruled that Hobby Lobby, a privately held corporation, could deny birth control coverage to employees based on its owners' religious convictions, law student Shana Knizhnik created the Tumblr as a tribute to Ginsburg. It became popular internationally, with multiple contributions of images and texts. Harper Collins approached Knizhnik with the offer to create a book based on the Tumblr and brought in Irin Carmon, a noted feminist journalist, currently a commentator for MSNBC and formerly for online feminist publication Jezebel. While the book retains the informal feel of the Tumblr with humorous images and sidebars to the text, it also maintains a narrative structure that integrates Ginsburg's professional and personal lives as well as legal commentary on her most famous dissents.

Before reading this book, how much did you know about Ruth Bader Ginsburg? How would you describe RBG--personally, socially, professionally, politically? Carmon and Knizhnik note that Ginsburg has been very insistent in her written and spoken opinions over the years that her work is not just about women’s rights, it is about women’s and men’s liberation. Explain her philosophy as you see it. Would you call RBG a feminist? Carmon and Knizhnik also emphasize RBG’s incremental approach to the advancement of women’s rights, as opposed to what Charlotte Alter, an interviewer for TIME calls “the click-bait feminism of today’s internet.” In this interview, Carmon said, “Shana and I both fear the burnout of internet outrage culture,” which is “grounded in substantive concerns” but little conversation about “how should this movement move forward for sustainable change.” Knizhnik notes that much of RBG’s success comes from “framing conversations in such a way that will not alienate people who may not yet be on board.” What do you think of RBG’s incremental approach? Is it a useful technique? Will it continue to work in today’s online media culture and political outrage culture? Why do you think RBG resonates with people, especially the millennial generation? Knizhnik overtly connects Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Notorious BIG, aka Christopher George Latore Wallace (1972-1997), who is considered one of the most influential rappers in the history of the genre that is known for violent and misogynistic lyrics. In fact, the chapter titles are from titles of songs by Notorious BIG . . . Why is this a humorous comparison? Why is it also an apt one? How would you characterize this book? Reviewers have offered many suggestions: As a biography? A scrapbook? A vision board? (Julia Carpenter, Washington Post) Fan nonfiction? A variation on a contemporary feminist website like Jezebel? (Jennifer Senior, New York Times) Some original combination? It may be lighthearted in spirit, but it also asks to be read as a serious consideration of RBG's legacy. Do you think Carmon and Knizhnik get the mix right? What are the potential advantages of this format? What are the potential drawbacks?

We hope you'll join the discussion: Tuesday, July 5, at 6:30 p.m. at Main Library; Thursday, July 21, at 11:00 a.m. at West Ashley Branch Library; and here on the blog.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Readalikes: If you enjoyed June's selection . . .

If you enjoyed My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, then you might also like these films and books suggested by our discussion members:

About Steinem:
  • HBO documentary Gloria: In Her Own Words
  • PBS documentary MAKERS: Women Who Make America
  • The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem by Carolyn Heilbrun
Other titles
  • Ain't I a Woman speech by Sojourner Truth at the Women's Convention, Akron, OH, May 29, 1851
  • The Ladies of Seneca Falls: The Birth of the Women's Rights Movement by Miriam Gurko
  • Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States by Eleanor Flexner
  • When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins
  • Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  • The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution
  • by Jonathan Eig
  • In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker
  • We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey
  • Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
  • Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Monday, June 6, 2016

June Not Fiction Book Discussions

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem gives readers insight into how one of the iconic writers, lecturers, editors, and feminist activists of the twentieth century grew into her calling. It is also a call to readers to become agents of change in their own communities.

In a warm, anecdotal style, Steinem, now in her 80s, shares the experiences that led her to become an organizer. After more than four decades of work, she is still optimistic about people's ability to create meaningful change in their communities through listening and collaborating on shared solutions to problems. The essential feature of her life has been travel, and the road becomes a metaphor for the state of mind she wants to encourage her readers to adopt as well:
Taking to the road--by which I mean letting the road take you--changed who I thought I was. The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories--in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.
While there are elements of autobiography in My Life on the Road, especially Steinem's stories about her itinerant childhood with her parents, this book concentrates on her career as an organizer and the professional lessons she has learned from it rather than her work as a writer and editor or the impact of her work on her life. What do you think of Steinem's focus? Did you enjoy learning about this particular aspect of her career? Was there more that you wanted to know about her life? What kind of person does she seem to be? And how did you like the anecdotal organization of her book? Did you find it conversational or a little disjointed? Have you ever participated in community organizing? How did your experience compare with Steinem's? Do you share her essential hopefulness?

Steinem has always found independent bookstores to be a resource for communal activism. In the spirit of "hand selling" books, she now keeps an occasional blog in which she recommends titles she has found inspiring and encourages readers to do the same. Visit it here and join the discussion.

We hope you will join our discussion, too: Tuesday, June 7, at 6:30 p.m. at Main Library; Thursday, June 16, at 11:00 a.m. at West Ashley Branch Library; and here on the blog.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Readalikes: If you enjoyed May's selection . . .

If you enjoyed Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey, then you might also like these books and films suggested by our discussion group members:

Junius and Albert's Adventures in the Confederacy: A Civil War Odyssey by Peter Carlson
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust
Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball
Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz
Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon
River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom by Walter Johnson
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist
Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert
Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union by Daniel W. Crofts
Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia Ex-Slaves by Charles L. Perdue and Thomas E. Barden
The Road to Disunion (2 vol.) by William W. Freehling
The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women's Rights and Abolition by Gerda Lerner
Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas

The Known World by Edward P. Jones
Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth
Middle Passage by Charles Johnson

Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North by produced and directed by Katrina Browne