Get Informed, Take Action: The CT State Budget

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It’s no secret that our country has seen a surge in political awareness and activism after the last election, and we’ve been getting reference questions about how to get more involved on national, state, and local issues. Some of the biggest rumblings lately deal with Governor Dannel Malloy’s state budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which is under review right now and contains millions of dollars’ worth of cuts for many municipalities, local and state agencies, and state-funded programs. If you’d like to get informed and take some action on the proposed budget, read on!

GET INFORMED

If you only have time to read one article on the new budget, though, the CT Mirror wrote an informative overview last month that hits some of the big parts of the budget.

TAKE ACTION

You can also send letters to the editors of local newspapers like the New Haven Register, Cheshire Herald, Hartford Courant, and Meriden’s Record-Journal.

Reading about Race: Books from the African-American Experience

The highly divisive election 2016 is over, and the Internet has been blowing up ever since. Some of us are feeling victorious and hopeful, and some of us are feeling frightened and hopeless. If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, the usual pictures of babies and cats are scattered among condemnations of riots and also calls for solidarity with those who have felt targeted by the political rhetoric this past election season.

Here in our rural-ish town, it’s no secret that we are not as diverse – ethnically, culturally, religiously, economically – as the cities to the north and south of us. It’s possible to not understand why our friends and neighbors are fearful, or why the news articles dissecting the election keep bringing up the uncomfortable topic of “privilege.” And that’s where the Cheshire Library comes in. We have memoirs, novels, and studies by and about African Americans, Latinos/as, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQs, persons with disabilities, documented and undocumented immigrants, and other minority voices which we can’t always hear in our daily lives. Today, we’re listing titles that explore the African American experience in particular. (Not all of us can sit down with print books, so where possible, the links will direct you to a list of the multiple formats in our catalog in our title.)

Let’s start with nonfiction picks:

 

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward first came to our attention with Salvage the Bones, which won the National Book Award in 2011. Her 2014 memoir Men We Reaped explores growing up poor and Black in Mississippi, with her story framed by five men she knew who died too young. Make sure you’ve got tissues handy.

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
A culture critic with a Twitter absolutely worth following, Gay’s funny and entertaining essays touch on race, feminism, and politics as she dissects Sweet Valley High, The Help, and Chris Brown.

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
Two young men, both named Wes Moore, both growing up fatherless in Baltimore. One is a Rhodes scholar, and the other is serving a life sentence for murder. Why did they end up with such different paths, and how close did each Wes Moore come to having the other’s path?

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Another National Book Award-winning author, Coates delivers his thoughts on race, history, and identity in the form of letters to his adolescent son. He dives into the Black Lives Matter movement, his childhood in Baltimore and college years at Howard University, and his views on the concept of race itself.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Racism in America, Alexander argues, hasn’t been eliminated, but redesigned. Her book examines the impact of the War on Drugs on African American communities, and how the election of Barack Obama and the resulting “colorblindness” has prevented us from acknowledging the full extent of that impact.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Since its publication in 2010, this has become required reading in high schools and book clubs alike. (In fact, we have a book group in town currently reading this!) Henrietta Lacks’ cancerous cells were taken without her consent over 60 years ago, and they’ve been used for important medical discoveries like the polio vaccine and in vitro fertilization. Yet, Henrietta’s living family members cannot afford health insurance. It’s a great book that explores bioethics and the intersections of race, poverty, and medical research.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Angelou’s autobiography is another required read in many school, and in it she shows her transformation from a young girl subjected to racism, sexism, and violence, to a confident and capable young mother.

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois
Essays from one of the most influential African American activists and writers. DuBois wrote it in 1903 as a reflection on racism pervading the U.S. since Emancipation, and it influenced future civil rights movements.

 

And now for you fiction lovers:

 

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
For fans of the classics, look no further than Invisible Man. Ellison is a master writer who draws upon influences like T.S. Eliot and Dostoevsky, while telling a story of a nameless young man’s journey through America in the middle of the 20th century.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
You might know Adichie from her TED Talks on “The Danger of a Single Story” (a compelling argument for reading diverse literature) or “We Should All Be Feminists,” with the latter being featured in Beyonce’s song “Flawless.” This 2013 novel focuses on a Nigerian-born young woman who emigrates to America, and it takes a look at race and immigration in contemporary Nigeria, the UK, and the US.

Jubilee by Margaret Walker
Described as Gone With the Wind through the eyes of an emancipated slave, this novel is based on the life of Walker’s great-grandmother, who was the child of a slave and a plantation owner, and her experiences during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A Pulitzer Prize-winning story that still holds up decades after its publication, it’s told through letters exchanged by two sisters over the course of their very different lives.

Native Son by Richard Wright
Wright’s novel, a bestseller when it came out in 1940 and a frequently-challenged book in schools, shows the systemic poverty and hopelessness experienced in Chicago’s South Side.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Morrison is a prolific writer, and Song of Solomon is considered one of her best works. This particular novel tells the story of a rich Black family in the Midwest, from the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance to the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement.

 

Further reading:

8 Reasons to Love Audiobooks (Or Give Them a Try)

Ever notice how your list of books to read never seems to get any shorter? For every title I cross off my list, three more appear, and at this rate it’ll take me at least 20 years to completely finish (I know because I’ve calculated it). I lose precious reading time to obligations like commuting, feeding myself, and keeping my living space somewhat clean. But I recently started listening to audiobooks, and I was able to turn those obligations into perfect opportunities to whittle down my list. I can now go through a book in one day and still get the laundry done!

We have a bunch of books on CD here at the library, but I prefer downloading audiobooks with the OverDrive app on my smartphone. I hook up my phone to my car stereo and don’t have to fumble with CDs while I’m on the highway, and I can keep listening indoors without having to drag a pile of discs with me. Another upside to downloading: no fees! Digital items disappear automatically when the loan period expires so you’ll never get hit with late charges, plus you can’t scratch them up or lose them under a car seat.

Here are some more reasons to love audio:

1) Multitask like a boss. Start up an audiobook and chores will suddenly become much more enjoyable. You can spend an afternoon reorganizing your closets while also tackling titles on your to-read list, like Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair read by Colin Firth. You may even find yourself actually seeking out more chores so you can continue listening!

2) Cut your screen time. After a long workday in front of a computer screen, do you really want to veg out in front of another glowing blue screen? Light mysteries like the books in Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series (A is for Alibi, B is for Body, etc.) offer nice background noise without disrupting your sleep.

3) A good narrator enhances your experience of the book. Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a funny book, but it’s even better when you hear her narration. An adept narrator enhances humor, drama, and other emotions in ways that you can’t replicate when your eyes are zooming across the page. Augusten Burroughs’ memoir Dry had me laughing hysterically one minute, then weeping the next.

4) Long drives seem shorter. It’s tough to stay alert when you’re driving alone, at night, on a really boring road (I’m thinking of you, New Jersey interstate). Picking up something long like The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak will keep your brain engaged and will make any long drive more endurable. Similarly, long workouts on the treadmill are less arduous when you have a plot to engage your mind.

5) Audiobooks are interactive. Have you been on the waitlist for the print copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo? You can download it right now through Hoopla and experience the magic by listening to the audio – while simultaneously tidying up! I’ve also found myself talking out loud to characters in suspenseful audiobooks like Tana French’s The Secret Place.

6) Long, difficult books can be less daunting in audio. Everyone has those “I’d like to read it, but I probably will never get around to it” books. I would never realistically have finished the 917-page behemoth of Roots, but it only took me a couple weeks to reach the end of disc 24.

7) You might actually retain more. There’s a theory that you retain more information when listening because your brain doesn’t have to work as hard at creating imagery. I used to think I would have a problem remembering what happened in audiobooks, but then I remembered all the times I’d looked up from reading a printed book and realized I didn’t remember any of the last six pages. It’s just bound to happen, I think (no pun intended).

8) You’ll realize you’ve been pronouncing a word wrong your entire life. Interminable. Prerogative. Indefatigable. Cache. Aluminum has five syllables?! Oh wait, nevermind, the narrator is British.

Now here’s how to get the audiobooks mentioned:

Do you currently listen to audio books? If not, do you think you’ll give them a try?

Three Holidays to Celebrate, Three Shows to Binge Watch

There are sparkly decorations everywhere, peppermint mochas are appearing at the coffee shop, and your mailbox is crammed with ads for door-buster sales. Yep, it’s the season for the gift-giving celebrations of Christmas and Hanukkah! But you don’t have to belong to any religion to have some fun this season. Here are a few cultural holidays that anyone can enjoy, along with television series to watch for hours on end while you’re off from work and school.

December 23

Festivus

Way back in December of 1997, millions of Seinfeld fans tuned in to watch the episode “The Strike” and were introduced to Festivus, a made-up holiday celebrated by Frank Costanza as a rebellion against the commercialism of Christmas. Fast forward to the present, and lots of people have taken to celebrating Festivus in their homes, dorms, and workplaces. The common rituals of Festivus are as follows:

1) Displaying the Festivus Pole – an unadorned aluminum pole. (You can actually buy these online!)
2) A celebratory Dinner – make anything you like, as long as it’s celebratory.
3) Airing of Grievances – this takes place immediately after dinner is served. Participants take turns complaining about how everyone has disappointed them in the past year.
4) Feats of Strength – after dinner, the head of the household selects a person to challenge to a wrestling match. Festivus officially ends when the head of the household is pinned.

Fun fact: Festivus actually goes back to 1966 when Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe’s father first instituted the tradition to celebrate an anniversary, and the family continued to celebrate it whenever Papa O’Keefe felt like it. Instead of an aluminum pole they had a clock in a bag, and they shared a Pepperidge Farm cake decorated with M&Ms

Binge Watch: Seinfeld. What else?

December 26

Boxing Day

Maybe you’ve seen Boxing Day on your wall calendar and had no idea what it was. Let’s Return Unwanted Gifts Day? A fisticuffs tournament over the last piece of pie? Nope! It’s a holiday in Great Britain and almost every place the British settled, except for the U.S. Nobody is sure where the name originated, though some believe it comes from the alms boxes set up in churches during the Advent season (which were then broken open and distributed on the 26th), or from the gift boxes presented to servants who had to work on Christmas but had the following day off.

Whatever purpose it once had, Boxing Day is now a relaxing day off to visit relatives, sit around and eat leftovers, and watch soccer. Among the wealthy, fox hunting used to be a popular Boxing Day activity before the practice was banned in 2004. Those with disposable income now hunt for bargains instead – it has become a huge shopping day, comparable to our Black Friday.

Binge Watch: If you’re not going to tune in to one of 10 Premier League games, pick up a Blu-Ray of The Paradise, a BBC series following a shop girl in Britain’s first department store.

December 26-January 1

Kwanzaa

Born out of the Black nationalist movement, Kwanzaa is a relatively young holiday, created in 1966 by Black Studies professor and activist Maulana Karenga as a way for African American to celebrate their heritage and connect to their community. It fuses elements from numerous African cultures – the term Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya Kwanza” or “first fruits of the harvest,” and draws from the harvest celebrations of the Ashanti, Yoruba, Ibo, and other West African tribes (from which most African Americans have descended). There’s feasting and singing, of course, but the most important part of Kwanzaa is celebration of the seven principles – things like creativity and self-determination – that are represented by lighting one candle each night of the holiday.

Kwanzaa reached its height in the 1980s and 1990s, and about 2% of the U.S. population celebrates the holiday today. However, Americans of any heritage can set out a kinara on the mantle and celebrate our country’s diverse history.

Binge Watch: Roots, Alex Haley’s award-winning exploration of his family’s background.

 

Which holidays are you celebrating this year?

November = National Novel Writing Month

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How many of us have ever thought it would be pretty cool to write a novel? Most of us, right? Maybe you’ve had a story idea you’ve been carrying around for years, revisiting it from time to time to add a detail or think through a character, like a pensive twist at an unsolved Rubik’s Cube. Or, maybe you just like the idea of having something that you’ve created and completed yourself. Whatever category you find yourself falling into, November is National Novel Writing Month, and the perfect time to get writing.

Known to insiders as NaNoWriMo (na-noh-RYE-moh), it’s an annual challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. It’s free to join and open to any adult: the only requirements are that you must start with fresh material and only work from midnight on November 1st to 11:59pm on November 30th. If you’re under 18, NaNo runs a special Young Writer’s Program for kids and teens with slightly different word goals.

If 50,000 words sounds like a huge number, you’re right. It works out to 1667 words a day, about the same as five typed pages of 12-point double-spaced text. It’s nearly impossible to write anything other than a very rough first draft of a novel, and that’s completely by design: to get to 50,000 words, you have to shut off your inner editor and become a high-velocity writing machine for 30 days. It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be.

So what do you win if you reach the goal of 50,000 words? Mainly bragging rights and the satisfaction of knowing you were able to complete the challenge. There’s no monetary prize or anything, but you do get coupons for some writing products. And at our NaNoWriMo 101 program on October 16th, Diane Scarponi, the Municipal Liaison for the CT Shoreline area, informed us that one particularly sweet coupon from CreateSpace entitles you to two free printed paperback copies of your novel if you hit the 50k word goal. Hooray!

For many NaNoWriMo writers, two copies isn’t enough: they want to share their novel with the world. Those who want to publish their work – after editing the daylights out of that first draft, of course – have a choice between self-publishing and traditional publishing. (It’s the same in the music industry: think musicians selling CDs out of a van, versus getting a contract with a major label.) It’s a tough game, but lots of authors who started their drafts during NaNoWriMo have gotten their finished projects into print via traditional publishers, and several of those novels have even gone on to become bestsellers.

The following titles all started as NaNoWriMo drafts, and against the odds, they’ve been published by major publishing houses and have made it onto the bestseller lists – and onto our shelves here at the library. Maybe you’ve already read them!

 

 

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Perhaps the best known NaNo novel of them all, this was made into a film a few years back that starred Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon.

 The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Another circus-themed read that has been making the book discussion rounds since it came out in 2011.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
The first installment of a super-popular YA series that features cyborgs, plagues, and outer space. You’ve got our attention!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The author of the bestselling Eleanor & Park didn’t rest on her laurels after it began appearing on bestseller lists. No, she decided to write 100,000 words during NaNoWriMo 2011.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Perkins’ debut novel and the first in a series of three young adult romances, NPR called it one of the best teen reads for 2010.

The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough
Before you start thinking NaNoWriMo writers are only doing chick lit and teen books, you have to know there’s some hardcore science fiction writers out there cracking their knuckles and then frantically typing. Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle, a trilogy of sci-fi thrillers starting with The Darwin Elevator, got its start during NaNoWriMo.

 

Are you doing NaNoWriMo in 2014? Let us know in the comments, or stop by during one of our scheduled Write-In Wednesdays on 11/5 from 5-9 pm and 11/19 from 5-9 pm!