Reading America II

They say reading takes you places, and our ‘Reading America’ project is designed to do just that. Each week, we have been putting out a video online recommending a book set in a particular American state. In this way, we hope you can get a feel for the different cultures and geographies that make up the United States of America. Here are the second five books we recommend.

State: Illinois
Read the E-book here

Upton Sinclair originally wrote The Jungle — a novel about the harsh conditions workers faced in the meat industry in the early 1900s — to try to motivate Americans to become socialist. The novel followed the plight of a family of Lithuanian immigrants to Chicago. As the book progresses, the family is forced to take jobs with dire working conditions, and eventually their poverty leads to everyone’s death except Jurgis, the protagonist. Although Sinclair, a journalist who frequently reported on exploitation and corruption, meant to provoke public outcry for safer working conditions, readers were most concerned with the health violations depicted in the novel. These did prompt reforms of the industry though, leading to Sinclair famously being quoted as saying that he was aiming to affect the public’s heart, but instead got its stomach.

State: South Dakota
Read the E-book here

For nearly a century, the ‘Little House on the Prarie’ book series has been a childhood staple in America. The fictionalized memoirs are written by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her experiences as a young pioneer settler in the midwest. “The Long Winter” is the sixth book in the series, and chronicles a stormy winter in South Dakota from 1880 to 1881, when Laura is about fourteen years old. Over the winter months, blizzard after blizzard hits the town, to the point where there isn’t enough coal to heat the buildings, trains stop running and food becomes scarce. Although Wilder frequently fictionalized her experiences for the books, this one is mostly accurate. The winter of 80/81 was known historically as “The Snow Winter” because of its frequent blizzards and extreme cold. For anyone interested in an engaging look at settler life in America, this is a great children’s read.

State: Vermont
Read the E-book here

This novel, written by Shirley Jackson, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and is considered to be one of the best literary ghost stories of the 20th century. The plot follows four characters who go to the supposedly haunted Hill House, to see if they can get proof of the existence of the supernatural. While living in the house, the characters experience many strange events, and one of them seems to even become possessed by the house, although it’s not clear if this is just her own psychosis. This is one of the hallmarks of Jackson’s writing style book, which uses suspense and terror (the feelings that come before a fright) rather than sheer horror (which is the result of a fright) to spark a response in the reader.

State: Iowa
Read the E-book here

The basis for the popular movie ‘Field of Dreams’ “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella is based around the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919. That year, eight Chicago White Sox players were accused of deliberately losing the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for money from a gambling syndicate. In the book, the protagonist, Ray, hears a voice telling him to build a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa corn field in order to give Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the players accused of corruption, a chance at redemption. The field then becomes a conduit to other baseball legends. Kinsella conceived the idea for Shoeless Joe at the famous Iowa Writer’s Workshop as his classmates loved his stories about baseball legends of old. The book features superb writing, and is a fantastic and fantastical portrayal of the sport of baseball.

State: Massachusetts
Read the E-book here

Written by Nathanial Hawthorne in 1850, the plot revolves around a mansion built in the 17th century, and the Pyncheon family who inhabit it. The house is under a supposed curse, which was cast when Colonel Pyncheon seized the land on which the house was built from Matthew Maule by accusing him of witchcraft. Colonel Pyncheon was later found dead in his armchair during the housewarming party. The current Pyncheons also suffer from a series of misfortunes, including murder accusations. As the book progresses, the family look to find atonement, and to escape from the curse that hangs over their house. The book has had a strong influence on many science fiction writers, and has seen many film and television adaptations.

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2nd Air Division Quiz – Test your knowledge

Today, June 27th, is Armed Forces Day. This day is a chance to show support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community: from currently serving troops to Service families, veterans and cadets. We thought we’d mark the day but quizzing you on your knowledge of the 2nd Air Division in a quiz created by our Library Assistant Tom. Have a go and leave your answers in the comments here or on Facebook. Then make sure to come back next week for all the answers!

1. Which four engined heavy bomber was flown by bomb groups of the Second Air Division?
– B-17 Flying Fortress
– B-24 Liberator
– B-29 Superfortress

2nd Air Division Archive at Norfolk Record Office. Catalogue Ref 371/916

2. Which Hollywood actor of pre-war fame served with the Second Air Division as a pilot flying combat missions?

– Clarke Gable
– Ronald Reagan
– James Stewart

3. What was the name of the Second Air Division bomber aircraft that flew the most number of missions, with no loss to crew and was therefore considered to be extremely lucky?

– Witchcraft
– Nine-o-Nine
– Ye Olde Pub

4. What was the date of the Ploesti raid, or Operation Tidal Wave, a bombing mission targeting oil production in Romania that was one of the bloodiest operations the Second Air Division took part in and later referred to as “Black Sunday”?

– 18th April, 1943
– 20th February, 1944
– 1st August, 1943

5. What was the abbreviation of the organisation of women’s branch of the United States Army as of July 1943?


2nd Air Division Archive at Norfolk Record Office. Catalogue Ref 371/805

6. Should an airman of the Second Air Division be forced to parachute from a crashing aircraft and survive the journey to earth, what semi-formal club would he be eligible to be a member of?

– The Lucky Bastard Club
– Caterpillar Club
– Goldfish Club

7. In Norwich city during wartime a popular venue for dances and other recreation was the Samson and Hercules, an establishment just outside the cathedral grounds. What was one of the nicknames American servicemen used to refer to it by?

– Bishop’s Palace
– The Adam and Eve
– The Muscle Palace

8. One of the types of fighter aircraft that protected bombers of the Second Air Division was the P-51 Mustang. Which device of British origin greatly contributed to the Mustang’s performance, making it one of the best fighter aircraft of the war?

– Gee
– Merlin 66
– Window

2nd Air Division Archive at Norfolk Record Office. Catalogue Ref 371/916


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Reading America Roundup One

They say reading takes you places, and our ‘Reading America’ project is designed to do just that. Each week, we have been putting out a video online recommending a book set in a particular state. In this way, we hope you can get a feel for the different cultures and geographies that make up the United States of America. Here are the first five books we recommend.

Read the E-book here
Written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an author who splits her time between the United States and Nigeria, Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu and her high school sweetheart Obinze. Here’s why Margaret Sessa-Hawkins thinks you should give it a read.

Read the E-book here
The Call of the Wild, written by Jack London in 1903, tells the story of Buck, a Saint Bernard mix who navigates a journey from civilization to the wild, remote world of the Yukon/ Klondike regions in what is now the Canadian Alaskan border. Linda Sheppard explains what makes the book so captivating.

Read the E-book here
Of Mice and Men is probably John Steinbeck’s most famous work. It follows two migrant ranch workers — George and Lennie — who are working in the Salinas Valley in California during the great depression. If you want to find out more about what life was like for people during the great depression, and to read about the agricultural areas around California at the time, Margaret Sessa-Hawkins explains why you should give this book a look.

Read the E-book here
“The first rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club. The second rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club” (Palahniuk, 48). Breaking that rule, however, Linda Sheppard explains why you should check this book out.

Read the E-book here
When Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, came out in 1994, it was an immediate success. The book spent 216 weeks on the New York Times best seller list, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Why was it so gripping? Margaret Sessa-Hawkins explains.

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Books on Systemic Racism

In light of the protests to structural and institutional racism occurring across the globe, we wanted to share some resources, both from our collection and from the main library collection, about systemic racism and how it can be combated.

We have also included a couple of outstanding works of fiction by black authors, because far too little attention is given to diverse voices in literature. While many of these works are by American authors (we are, after all, the American library) we are also recommending books from other countries in recognition of the fact that racism is a global problem and needs to be confronted as such.


The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander
In this work civil litigator Michelle Alexander discusses how mass incarceration in the United States has become a tool of oppression. While white people are more likely to commit drug crimes than those of color, black people, and specifically black men, make up a disproportionately high percentage of those incarcerated for drug crimes. The book’s title is based on the idea that mass incarceration has become a new version of the Jim Crow laws that were used in the early 20th century to enforce racial segregation in the United States.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
Based on a blog entry, Eddo-Lodge uses this work to explore racism in Britain. Eddo-Lodge’s central argument is that it is impossible to discuss race with those who are not aware of or will not acknowledge the structural racism in place in all levels of society.

Stamped from the Beginning – Ibram X. Kendi
Winner of the National Book Award, ‘Stamped from the Beginning’ is a chronicle of racism in the United States. In the book Kendi, a historian, traces the influential and long-lasting power racist ideas have had on society. The book chiefly challenges the notion that racism grows from ignorance, instead contending that it has been deliberately devised and honed over centuries.

Sister Outsider – Audra Lorde
Drawing on the author’s experience as a poet and activist, this collection examines intersectional identity and oppression. From her position as a queer black woman, Lorde examines sexism, racism, police brutality, black feminism and movements promoting equality. It was groundbreaking when it was published in 1984, and it remains a must-read.

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Framed as a letter to the author’s son, ‘Between the World and Me’ was awarded the National Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize. The book chronicles American history, and the racist violence implicit within it. In the end, Coates determines that white supremacy is a permanent and indestructible force which black individuals will always struggle against.

Just Mercy – Bryan Stevenson
A memoir by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, this book tells the story of Walter McMillan, a black man sentenced to death for a murder he insisted he didn’t commit. Like ‘The New Jim Crow’, the book offers a fairly damning look at the American criminal justice system.


Beloved – Toni Morrison
Winner of the Nobel prize for literature, Toni Morrison is one of the greatest writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Set after the civil war, ‘Beloved’ was inspired by the life of Margaret Garner, an escaped slave. It is a brilliant novel of astoundingly exquisite writing. A must-read.

A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
After his first book was rejected 78 times, James has admitted he almost gave up on being an author, feeling that he was “writing the kinds of stories people didn’t want to read”. James had the last word though, going on to publish ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ which took home the Booker Prize. His style of patois prose — which is poetic and stunning — goes a long way to explaining why, and makes you wonder what those who rejected him were thinking.

The Underground Railroad – Coleson Whitehead
Winner of the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize and the Carnegie Medal, Whitehead’s novel envisions an underground railroad that is an actual underground railway system. The book tells the story of two slaves who use the system to try to win their freedom. Read it, and you will understand why it took a hat trick of literary awards.

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
There’s a reason Adichie is hailed as one of the greatest living writers. Her writing style is understated, but no less compelling for its subtlety. In ‘Americanah’ the protagonist maintains a blog of musings on what it is like to be a black African in America, making the book into a profound exploration of the subject.

Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
In this National Book Award winning novel Ward uses the portrayal of a poor family in Mississippi to create a damning critique of drugs, the prison system, and U.S. history. Ward’s style of writing is lyrical and poetic, creating a spellbinding and devastating read.

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