Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope – book review

No matter what you read lately, whether it’s political, economic, or even comedy relief, the concept of a national divide keeps popping up. It seems there is nothing that we’re not crabby about – which song got the Grammy, whether poodles are better than dalmatians, whether corn counts as a vegetable or a starch. Umpteen books have been written on the divide of “liberal” vs. “conservative,” urban vs. rural, prosperity vs. lazy poor, criminal drug abuser vs. victim of Big Pharma, and into that mix Nicholas Kristof throws out an excellent one, called Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope.

Kristof grew up in rural Yamhill, Oregon, a White, conservative town of 1100 people. More than a quarter of the kids he went to school with died of drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents caused by drugs or alcohol. Why did he make it out in one piece, while his friends died slowly of alcoholism, often homeless most of their lives? Why did families lose 3, 4, 5 kids to drugs and alcohol? Why did some do fine?

To keep it real, Kristof explores people in similar situations in places like South Dakota, Oklahoma, New York City, Baltimore, and more, bastions of poverty and drugs in the U.S. What he finds is the same issues, handled differently – humanely – makes a world of difference. In places like Oklahoma, the entire penal code is stacked against poor people. Indigent and need a free legal defender? You are then arrested for being indigent, and fined for your arrest. Now you’re in debt to the state. So you are sent to prison for being a debtor – even if it’s only ONE dollar! Now you have more fines added. People are released from prison – private, for-profit prisons, of course – with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines from a mere $25 parking ticket. Can’t make the payments on your fines? Back to jail, and more fines. It’s a gerbil wheel of punishing the poor – even though intervention programs can save $10 of tax money for every dollar spent.

And of course, once you have a felony conviction, you can’t get a job. So people turn to selling meth and heroin. And get convicted, and can’t get hired, and get homeless and depressed and turn to drugs…. Over and over and over. Why are Mexicans taking the jobs from under-educated poor white people? Because the Mexicans can be counted on to show up for work, and aren’t drunk or stoned.

Kristof narrows the biggest issues down to two: One is education. Most of the people he knew didn’t graduate, had parents that barely made it to 8th grade, and grandparents who might not have made it to fifth. If you come from a home where there are no books, no magazines, and no expectations of further education, it’s harder to succeed. He explores one family where the mother had a 5th-grade education, and five children by four different fathers. When the first was expelled from kindergarten twice for behavioral issues, she – with a fifth-grade education – decided to home-school her kids (5 under the age of 6). How much of a chance do those kids have?

The second predictor of success was coming from a two-parent home. If you had two parents – and usually two incomes – you had a much greater chance of being successful. Single mothers with a trail of children left those kids in chaos. More than one child entering Yamhill kindergarten was described as “feral.”

Kristof also explores the programs – often started by those who had had enough – that give people just the right boost, whether it’s paying those $1 legal fees and freeing people from prison or getting them a job or housing or a drug treatment program. Such programs are a lifeline for the people involved, and often get them on the track to permanent success. Unfortunately, many of the government programs to do just that have been eliminated in recent years.

The book is easy to read, informative, and does not preach or even really point fingers. It’s careful to present only facts, though the family situations and the culture of violence surrounding them can be maddening. Despite the grim realities, the book ends up on a positive note. This is one to put on your To Be Read list, and check out these other titles in similar vein:


Hillbilly Elegy
The Left Behind
Evicted
White Trash
Dimestore
Dreamland
Chasing the Scream
Detroit
Broke, USA
Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America
Survival Math
Nickel and Dimed

 

What’s Happening (virtually) at Cheshire Library in December

Winter is coming, and this year looks to be a challenging one. We’re working hard to come up with fun and interesting online programs to keep you engaged & connected all winter long. Take a look what we’ve got scheduled, and visit our Event Calendar to learn more and sign up!

December Teen Volunteering Challenges

Earn community service hours by submitting a photo, video, or other content that may be added to CPL’s social media pages! Each submission will be awarded 2 community service hours. December’s challenges include:

  • Art: Make art as a gift for someone.
  • Writing: Write a story, poem, or essay, about a holiday. Any holiday. Any story. Fact or fiction or something in between.
  • Food: December 4th is National Cookie Day, so make some cookies and share them with your family and friends.
  • Reading: Read a book about a winter sport.
  • More Reading: Celebrate National Short Story Day on December 21, by exploring an anthology or collection of short stories- you can use it as inspiration to write your own short story!
  • Even More Reading: Read a book while wrapped in your favorite blanket. (Cup of hot chocolate optional).

Submit HERE for the Art, Writing, and Food Challenges. Submit a 300 word book review HERE for what you read for the Reading Challenges.

Support Through Meditation – Weekly Zoom Event

Tuesdays,  December 1-22, 11:00am – 12:00pm

This introductory meditation class is geared towards helping you through these anxious and challenging times. You will learn various meditation techniques that you will practice in session and guidance to perform meditation on your own. Presenter Tia Mandrozos will explain the purpose of meditation and interact with the participants to provide the help needed and to address specific concerns. Please register via the Event Calendar for each session you wish to attend.

Cheshire Art League – Watercolor Demo

Wednesday, December 2, 2020, 6:00 – 8:15pm

Author of the upcoming book White! Light! Bright! Weaving Subjects with Backgrounds for Distinctive Watercolor Paintings, Connecticut artist Bivenne Staiger will give a demonstration in watercolor of a bird in its natural setting. This event is sponsored by the Cheshire Art League. For more information contact cheshireartleague@gmail.com. Advance registration is required to join this program.

On With Life (OWL) Meeting and Program

  • Monday, December 7, 2020, 10:00am – 12:00pm
  • 10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Open Meeting, 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. When the Holidays Hurt, Meditation Can Help

The Holiday season can be a painful time for many who have lost a loved one. It is difficult to be merry and bright when sadness and heartache fill your heart. In this session, we will turn to the work and the teachings of one of the biggest experts in the field of human suffering…the Buddha himself. This event is sponsored by OWL. To learn more, please visit Facebook at facebook.com/cheshireowl or email any questions to cheshireowl2020@gmail.com. Advance registration is required to join this program.

Holiday Cooking in the Time of Quarantine

Monday, December 7, 2020, 6:30 – 8:00pm

The holidays won’t be the same this year for ANY of us, but we can still enjoy cooking and discussing our some of our favorite holiday recipes! Please join Cheshire librarians and avid cooks, Sandy and Deb (who are both already stocking up on flour and yeast), for our special holiday edition of Cooking During Covid. Get out your cookbooks and recipe files, fire up that cookie press and be ready to share a favorite holiday recipe or talk about one of your special holiday food traditions. Please register in advance to receive a link to join this online program.

Family Trivia Night

Monday, December 7, 2020, 6:30 – 7:15pm

Looking for something that you can do as a whole family? Team up for this virtual trivia challenge! Trivia questions will cover a variety of topics and will be appropriate for children of all ages. Each family will need a device (or devices) to participate in Zoom and answer trivia questions. Advance registration is required–please register once per family participating. You will receive a link via email for the Zoom meeting prior to the event.

Technology Chat: Holiday Gifts

Tuesday, December 8, 2020, 6:00pm – 7:30pm

Join us for a Technology Chat! We’ll informally discuss the latest gadgets (see below for examples of what we could discuss) and make recommendations for the perfect holiday gift. This is a great opportunity to ask questions about gadget features and utility. Our technology obsessed Librarians will answer questions and give advice. Please register in advance to receive a link to join this online program.

CT Partnership for Long Term Care

Wednesday, December 9, 2020, 2:00pm – 3:30pm

Just one year in a Connecticut nursing home can cost more than $162,100. And Medicare and health insurance may only cover a fraction of these costs. If you’re 40 or older, long-term care insurance approved by the State’s Connecticut Partnership for Long-Term Care should be part of your retirement plan. These policies provide asset protection, protect against inflation, and – most important – give you peace of mind through your retirement years. Guest speaker Aldo Pantano, from the CT Partnership for Long-Term Care, with the State Office of Policy and Management will present this free seminar. Please register in advance to receive a link to join this online program.

Waiting for Winter Storytime

Wednesday, December 16, 2020, 10:00am – 10:30am

As the weather gets cooler and we wait for winter, get cozy at home with a virtual storytime! We’ll enjoy the changing season by talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing together! Best for children ages 2-5. Younger and older siblings are welcome. Registration is required. Registered participants will receive a Zoom link in a confirmation email, and a reminder email 1 hour before the program begins.

Book Buzz Teen Book Club

Wednesday, December 16, 2020, 3:00pm – 4:00pm

This month we are going to do something different- we will each read a book of our choice (all different books) and then share the stories with each other. Books will be provided and are yours to keep! You can pick up a Book Buzz book at the Children’s Desk, starting on November 2nd. Registration is required, registered participants will receive a Zoom link on the day of the program. For grades 6-12.

Comics Club: New Kid

Thursday, December 17, 2020, 4:00 – 4:45pm

This month we’ll make our own memory boxes in addition to discussing the book, New Kid by Jerry Craft. Please read the book before attending this virtual event. Copies of the book are available at the children’s information desk. For children in grades 3-5.  Registration is required, kids must be registered in order to pick up a copy of the book and craft supplies. Registered participants will receive a Zoom link 1 hour prior to the event start time.

Family Holiday Baking

Join Katie, Registered Dietitian from Food Explorers and learn to make delicious holiday treats! Ingredients needed are on the Event Calendar listings for each program. Registration is required, one registration per family. You will receive a link to join the program 1 hour prior to the start time.

Pajama Storytime

Monday, December 28, 2020, 7:00 – 7:30pm

Put on your pajamas and fuzzy slippers and tune in for a fun-filled evening of stories, songs, and adventures! Best for ages 2-5. Registration is required for this virtual event. You will receive a link to the Zoom meeting 1 hour prior to the event start time.

Books Over Coffee: The Queen’s Gambit

Wednesday, December 30, 2020, 12:00 – 1:30pm

Want to engage in great discussions about books? Meet new people? Join us for an adult monthly book club program called Books Over Coffee. We will meet over Zoom. This month’s book is The Queen’s Gambit  by Walter Tevis. Advance registration is required, registered participants will receive a Zoom link on the day of the program.

Thanksgiving-themed Books for Kids and Adults


For many of us, Thanksgiving has been a time when family members far and wide gather together, with as many people and as much food crammed around the dinner table as we can fit. Ah, the good old days! Thanksgiving may look a little different this year,  when social distancing and travel restrictions can put a damper on social gatherings.  Never fear! We’ve put together some Thanksgiving-themed reading to help keep your holiday spirit going, even if you’re celebrating from a distance.

For Kids:

 

For Adults:

 

 

A Double Dose of Girl Power: Enola Holmes and Flavia de Luce

When the Enola Holmes movie was recently released on Netflix, I decided to read the book that it was based on (The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer) before watching the movie. As I read the book, I was struck by two things. #1, though this book series is found in the Children’s Room, it has surprisingly sophisticated themes and I found it very appealing as an adult reader. #2, the protagonist, Enola Holmes, precociously adept at solving mysteries, reminded me of another young sleuth I loved, the delightfully quirky Flavia de Luce from Alan Bradley’s series.

I quickly devoured The Case of the Missing Marquess, and immediately checked out the rest of the series. I’m happy to report that all six books are wonderful, quick reads that will appeal the fans of dear Flavia, or cozy mysteries in general. Let’s take a look at the young protagonists from each series.

Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes, whom she admires but rarely sees. Raised by her mother in a very unconventional way, and often left to her own devices for extended periods of time, Enola has a skill set not normally found in young ladies of her era, with a particular talent for cryptology. In 1900, on her 14th birthday, her mother mysteriously disappears, leaving coded clues behind. Enola sets out to solve the mystery of her disappearance, much to the consternation of her brothers, who want to put her into boarding school and make a proper lady out of her. She is in hiding from them for most of the series, and it’s fun to watch Enola outsmart the brothers who think themselves so much smarter than her.

Flavia de Luce is an 11-year-old girl in 1950 who lost her mother when she was a baby. She lives with her largely-absent father and two annoying older sisters on an English country estate that’s seen better days. Flavia’s upbringing is also quite unconventional, and she spends much of her time indulging her passion for chemistry, becoming quite an expert in poisons through the many experiments she conducts in her laboratory. Flavia’s obsession with the gruesome and deadly along with her need to get to figure out why things happen is a by-product of losing her mother at such an early age; indeed Harriet de Luce remains a presence in the sad little family throughout the series. While this could be maudlin, it is never overdone, and Flavia’s determination to make sense of events in the world around her drives everything she does. She is the definition of “pluck”.

Both girls are motherless and do not follow the social norms of their times. Both have older siblings who are the banes of their existence.  Both are whip-smart and often underestimated by the adults around them. And both have the uncanny knack for landing in the middle of trouble, over and over again, and are able to survive largely by their wits.

The Flavia de Luce stories are longer and a bit more complex than the Enola Holmes stories, but watching both of these unconventional sleuths get to the bottom of each mystery they land into is pure delight. I’ll add an additional plug for the audiobooks, the narrators of each series are pitch-perfect in their portrayals, and really bring the characters to life.

It’s recommended to read the books in both series in order, as each book builds off the previous one. Get a double dose of girl power with these terrific mysteries!

Flavia de Luce Mysteries:

  1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
  3. A Red Herring Without Mustard
  4. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
  5. Speaking from Among the Bones
  6. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
  7. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
  8. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d
  9. The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place
  10. The Golden Tresses of the Dead

Enola Holmes Mysteries:

  1. The Case of the Missing Marquess
  2. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady
  3. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets
  4. The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan
  5. The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline
  6. The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye

Magic, Mayhem… and Laughter? 15 Tales of Fantasy and Humor

Our teen librarian, Kelley, has some book recommendations for those who like their fantasy with a dash of humor.

 

While most folks may not head to fantasy novels for the laughs, there are lots of fantastical books out there that provide some escapism and comic relief at the same time. Here are fifteen delightfully funny fantasy books that shake up the genre– there are high fantasy parodies, taking on tropes of faux-medieval fantasy worlds, sometimes with a meta-fictional twist. Then there are satirical takes on urban fantasy and the paranormal, tongue-in-cheek updates of myths and fables, and books that are just plain funny and/or weird. So if you need a break from the darker end of the fantasy spectrum, consider one of these triumphs of fantastical humor and get ready to fall down a rabbit hole of laughter and wonder!

 

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud . If you somehow missed out on reading the Bartimaeus Sequence when you were younger, now is the time to read it. If you read it as a kid, now is the time to read it again (and pick up on all the historical jokes that whizzed over your head the first time around). It all begins when a magician’s apprentice decides to skip ahead in his studies and secretly summon a 5,000-year-old djinni for his own purposes. Unfortunately for him, this djinni happens to be the snarkiest magical being the world has ever known, and he is none too happy to be working for a bratty kid. A novel of alternate history, magic, and sarcasm which successfully bridges the divide between children’s and adult fiction.

 

The Big Over Easy : a Nursery Crime by Jasper Fforde. Humpty Dumpty, a known ladies’ man, has been found dead next to a wall. Did he fall… or was he pushed? It’s up to Inspector Jack Spratt, head of the Nursery Crime Division, and his partner, Mary Mary, to find out all the dirty details. The Big Over Easy is brimming with wit and word-play, as well as clever references to pretty much every fairy tale or fable out there (and also there are aliens, somehow?). It’s a smart, literary, pun-laden riot, with a genuine mystery at its heart.

 

The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken. Keeley is a blacksmith who doesn’t pay much mind to the old king’s passing and a prophecy declaring that the new sovereign will be a queen to usurp the kingdom’s princes. War is good for her business. But she has to start caring when she discovers that the prophesied queen is her younger sister, and a band of mountain warriors are determined to see her on the throne. Powerful women, irreverent snark, and humor are layered into bloody battle scenes- it sounds unlikely but somehow the author pulls it off. Romance takes a back seat to the main storyline and the hilarious interactions between all of her characters- sit back and enjoy a sometimes gory, truly funny feminist romp that just screams girl power.

 

Carry On : the Rise and Fall of Simon Snow by Rainbow Rowell. Simon Snow and his roommate Baz are mortal enemies. Simon is the Chosen One, and Baz is evil, but they have their routines and when Baz goes missing, Simon is concerned. It’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up. Carry On is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story – but far, far more monsters.

 

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.  Set on an abandoned space station, Gideon is a sword-fighting cavalier sworn to protect her worst enemy as she uses necromancy to figure out how to win the emperor’s competition. The winners get immortal life, but it’s not an easy prize to obtain, especially when the murders begin. Gideon the Ninth is too funny to be straight horror, it’s a mix of science fiction and fantasy, and is much more gory than your average romance. It is gothic and irreverent- brilliantly original, messy and weird straight through with surprising depth and appeal.

 

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  Someone has misplaced the Antichrist. But, according to “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” the world is to end next Saturday. And only Aziraphale, a finicky angel, and Crowley, a chilled out demon, seem to have any problem with that. Comedic fantasy great Terry Pratchett teamed up with Neil Gaiman, another all-time master of the genre, to create top-notch apocalyptic humor. This book is laugh-out-loud funny, and it doesn’t skimp on the plot, either. Plus, not only is the situation a hilarious, horrifying mess, but the characters are some of the most memorable in any genre. (Check out the BBC series once you’ve read the book!)

 

The Hike by Drew Magary.  An epic fantasy adventure with a simple premise: a guy gets lost in the woods. But getting lost turns into a journey across a strange world populated with hungry giantesses, witheringly sarcastic crabs, dog-men, and dwarves. In short, things get very, very weird. One of the strangest and funniest fantasy sagas unlike any you’ve read before- weaving elements of folktales and video games into a riveting, unforgettable tale of what a man will endure to return to his family.

 

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. Linus Baker works in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, and his latest assignment is rather odd: He must travel to Arthur Parnassus’s orphanage and evaluate six children to determine what the chances are that they’ll bring about the end of the world. But when Linus arrives, it’s clear that Arthur is safeguarding some pretty big secrets about these children, and will do whatever it takes to keep them safe. A balance of crazy humor, a keen sense of storytelling, and a gentle romance infuses this tale of found family, the importance of kindness and the courage to speak up for those who need it most.

 

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames.  Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld. Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk, or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help–the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for. It’s time to get the band back together! A comedy, an adventure tale, a consideration on growing older, and rock ‘n roll all rolled into a fantastically original romp of a book.

 

The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that’s home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.” This is one of the most unique books you will ever read: a cynical, ironic, hysterical, and somehow stunningly romantic fantasy novel (and don’t miss out on watching the movie!).

 

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. Terry Pratchett is the master of the fantasy humor genre, so it’s hard to go wrong with any book from his Discworld series. The Discworld is, of course, a flat disc balanced on the backs of four elephants which are standing on the back of a giant turtle, and it’s populated with some of the funniest oddballs that fantasy has to offer. Small Gods is not the first book in the series, but it’s a stand-alone novel set in the Discworld, and it’s got some of Pratchett’s absolute sharpest wit. The Great God Om has run into a bit of a problem: How do you go about being a god if no one believes in you?

 

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho.  In Zen Cho’s witty debut novel, Zacharias Wythe is the Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers, tasked with overseeing that all magic in England is kept in balance. But when magic drains away, he goes to the edges of fairyland to discover the cause–and meets a young woman with formidable powers that he won’t soon forget. A wonderful and charming book that combines regency romance and fantasy while at the same time exploring some of the problematic aspects of those genres in regards to race and gender. It examines the relationship between politics and power all the while managing to remain light, delightful, endearing, and funny.

 

Soulless by Gail Carriger.  All of Gail Carriger’s Victorian steampunk novels populated with vampires and werewolves are hysterically funny, but you might as well start out with her debut novel and the first in the Parasol Protectorate series. Lady Alexia Tarrabotti is a spinster, and she’s soulless- her touch renders an immortal mortal. For that reason she’s feared, but when someone tries to kill her, she must work with a brooding werewolf earl in order to get to the bottom of the mystery. Light-hearted and fast-paced, Soulless is a mix of historical fantasy and paranormal romance with a touch of screwball comedy you won’t want to put down.

 

To Say Nothing of the Dog : or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis. The invention of the time machine has opened up the past to historians in a way that their forebears could only dream of. There are rules, though: You aren’t supposed to bring anything back with you from the past- least of all a cat. Now an overworked Oxford Don has to return to the 19th century to set things right. A comedic frolic through an unpredictable world of mystery, love, and time travel.

 

Welcome to Night Vale : a Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor.  Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. Whether you’re a fan of the strange and upsetting Welcome to Night Vale podcast or you’re new to Night Vale and its quaint desert conspiracies, it’s never a bad time to visit Night Vale. As their tourism board says, “We’ll show you the fun in a handful of dust!” Night Vale is the hysterical, paranormal Gothic novel you never knew you were looking for (but it’s most certainly been looking for you).