Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Year in review, part the third

I read quite a bit on nonfiction in 2010. The highlights are as follows. Honestly, these could easily be the best books I read in 2010, period, between fiction, nonfiction, and YA together.

This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

I'm totally biased in my opinion about this book, I'm sure. After all, I'm working towards my MLIS. It's definitely a book that paints librarians in a super positive light -- superHERO-positive, really. The book is witty, informative, and it's a really human look at how the librarians of today function in the digital world they now must work in. The book covers a wide variety of topics, including the PATRIOT Act and how libraries fought back (excerpt: During the height of the debate about the Patriot Act, some librarians posted signs that were "technically legal," slyly warning patrons that their privacy might be compromised: "THE FBI HAS NOT BEEN HERE (watch very closely for the removal of this sign)"), as well as chapters on how librarians are using Second Life to their full advantage, and there's a whole chapter entirely devoted to the vast amount of librarian blogs out there, many witty in their defiance against the stereotypical schoolmarm image, many snarky, and all with something to say (often, that something to say involves...poop in the stacks?). On a more serious note, space is also given to how cyber librarians (cybrarians) are able to help underdeveloped countries with their skills. All in all, the book is a well-rounded and witty look at a profession that all too often has been stereotyped by that famous scene in It's a Wonderful Life where we find out with HORROR that Mary, had she not met George, would have become......a librarian!


But this book challenges that, and says OH BUT YES! YES INDEED.

The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America

(This is a recycled review, since I talked about this book way back in the beginning of 2010...and it still remains one of the best nonfiction books I read in 2010): Ray Suarez -- of NPR's Talk of the Nation -- moves fluidly from many different angles on the debate of where religion and faith belong in politics. This is not a "Here's what I think" book, so much as a "Here's what a lot of different people from a lot of different angles and perspectives/views think" which was refreshing because it really lets the reader in on multiple angles through the tons of different interviews.

The book covers a variety of issues, including gay marriage, abortion, the Ten Commandments, the Constitution, prayer in schools, political candidates and faith as running tool, politics and church in general, morals, Alabama, and a number of other topics as well. Each chapter is devoted to a different issue, although there is some overlap because, as in life, many things are connected, and there are subtleties in every issue that's examined. His explanations of conservative Christian ideas don't simply stop and end with "For the Bible tells me so" as the reason for their thinking on every issue, and really digs deep, and by the same token doesn't say that more liberal non-religious members of society aren't necessarily trying to "Kick God out of school." He takes a good long look at issues and dissects them as neatly as possible.

Suarez interviews numerous different people, ranging all over the place from Popes to Evangelical pastors to atheists in Alabama to political leaders on both sides to political and religious pundits, authors, and beyond. The final chapter jumps around a bit, but overall, the book's multiple interviews mesh well with each other. The book's tone is quite bipartisan, and overall he doesn't set out to smash one side or the other -- Suarez has a cheeky comment every so often in regards to some irony or another, but even those are benign and the overall tone is very much "Can we try to see what everyone is thinking, why they're thinking it, and what the consequences are and could possibly be, and how we might approach things differently?" instead of "These people think this and are crazy, and these people think this and are sane." I'd definitely recommend it to both conservative, liberal, religious and non-religious friends alike.

Jesus Land: A Memoir

This book is not what you might think -- this is not a similar tale to that of Jesus Camp despite a similar title and a jacket that might suggest a summer camp setting. This book is a memoir by Julia Scheeres, who grew up with two adopted black brothers in the 1970s in Indiana, though the story particularly centers on Julia and David (youngest adopted son) and their story. The book is both the story of a brother and sister's undying love for each other despite a family that tried to tear them apart and abused them both (though in different ways -- remember, she was a biological child in her family, he was the black adopted son, and their treatment differed). They both face prejudice, and there is abuse at home. However, what really makes this story stand out is the point at which Julia and David find themselves sent off to a Christian Dominican boarding correction school. Or rather, David finds himself shipped there, and Julia follows, choosing to have herself sent there as well rather than spend her time at home alone with David suffering by himself. There, they slave like animals, and are abused even more. And the end will just shatter your heart into slivers. And I really don't say that lightly. Months have passed, and still looking at the cover, I feel emotional -- and this is a frank telling, not at all playing for sympathy, and the writing is neither flowery nor excessive in its descriptions of abuse and hatred.

This book is heartbreaking. But this is not a sentimental book. The writing is not sentimentalized. At the core of the story is not a theme of abuse or lack of Christian love, but a story of a great prevailing affection between a brother and sister. It is a warm root in the midst of a very cold book. Read it.

It is here on Google Books (though the narrative starts on page 4...missing 1-3, but a good deal of the rest seems available)

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