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.

AMERICANAH
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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.

THE CALL OF THE WILD
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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.

OF MICE AND MEN
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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.

FIGHT CLUB
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“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.

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL
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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.

NONFICTION

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.

FICTION

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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Introducing: Reading America

In the beginning of the iconic novel ‘Americanah’, the protagonist, Ifemelu, declares that her favorite thing about Princeton, New Jersey, is that it smells of nothing. Ifemelu goes on to describe how other cities she has lived in all had distinctive smells. Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, had ‘the musty scent of history’; New Haven, in Connecticut ‘smelled of neglect’; Baltimore, in Maryland, had the smell ‘of brine’ and Brooklyn, in New York, had the distinction of smelling like ‘sun-warmed garbage’.

Although not always the most pleasant of descriptions, these categorizations of some of America’s most well-known locales do make an important point: America is a big country, made up of 50 different states, each with their own distinct ethos. Not only does every state have its own representative bird, tree, motto, flag, and government, all states have their own particular culture and feel.

It is in order to try to introduce people to the culture of each of those 50 states (plus the District of Columbia!) that we are starting a new project at the American library. Every week, starting this Friday, we’re going to release digital recommendations of books where the plot is focused on or takes place in a particular state. In a short video that will be posted to Twitter and Facebook, an American Library staff member will talk about a book, about the state it is associated with, and why you might enjoy giving it a read.

While we may not be able to travel, we still hope these books will help to take you on a journey around the U.S.A.

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The end was near – April and May 1945

Though the war is wrapping up in April 1945, and there are only a couple combat missions with most flight activity being supply hauling, the light-heartedness of the memoirs in the 2nd Air Division Archive is a story in itself. A story of how, for many people, the war became part of every day life and wasn’t even at the forefronts of people’s minds. April 1945 seemed almost more abuzz with excitement for Easter.

Does this light-heartedness represent the quickness with which people can become desensitised so that even something as dramatic as a world war becomes normal? Or is some of this perhaps a self-preservative sort of denial of the worst of the war and trying to focus on normality as people are known to do as a coping mechanism with duress?

The archive is full of fond recollections of experiencing a new country and the privileges and kindnesses afforded to service personnel.

This cheery attitude in England is contrasted to the experiences on missions. Their tribulations in the air were threatening and tragic and demanding of courage.

Of the 355th, on April 7th attacked Duneberg and Krummel and on the way home, a Mills and Plowman were seen to disappear while penetrating cloud cover and never heard from again. Surely such harrowing events stuck with men even when they enjoyed times on the Broads.

The 2nd Air Division made a significant impact on weakening the enemy, harassing their industrial bases and modes of transportation, causing great difficult in movements of men and material and forcing relocation to only semi-prepared bases. This constant strafing decreased the morale of German fighters significantly and undercut their will and ability to launch effective offensives against Allies.

Throughout April, and especially by the middle of the month, raids such as at Esterwerda, Brandenburg and Munich by USAAF proved that the enemy had little to offer in resistance. The war was coming to a close. This of course meant little to servicemen as until they received surrender, they would continue to put themselves in danger of injury and death. High command saw the war as wrapping up but this would not be felt by the 2nd until later that month.

In the desperation of the waning of the Third Reich, the pilots of the Sonderkommando Elbe were instructed to ram allied planes should conventional attacks fail and this was followed on the 7th of April by one Bf109, causing the deaths of fifteen American airmen.

Casualties continued throughout this last month, poignantly, some not even being in combat but due to accidents in Britain and engine failures on the return home.

The last combat sortie was on April 25th when the marshalling yards of Salzberg, Bad Reichenhall and Hallstein as well as an electrical transformer plant at Traunstein were targeted.  Thankfully this mission passed without losses due to the ruinous state of the Reich at this point.

In the end the Americans departure from East Anglia was almost as rapid as their arrival. They did leave behind an incredible legacy which we celebrate particularly now as we join with other nations around the world to commemorate Victory 75. For many of the American service personnel of course VE Day was not the end, August saw Victory in Japan Day and the long Second World War finally came to an end in September 1945.

This blog was compiled by a guest blogger who completed work experience with the American Library in 2020 and edited by the library team. 

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