Must Reads From Dominican Librarians

A section of Dominican’s Alemany Library is dedicated to books recommended by our librarians for leisure reading. Many members of our Dominican community enjoy settling into an armchair or a bean bag chair in the cozy ground-floor reading room to get lost in a book.

We asked our librarians for some reading recommendations during this shelter-in-place period. Below are some great choices.

Dominican’s librarians are available online to help faculty and students. They can be reached via chat Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. – noon, and 1:30 p.m.  9:30 p.m. Virtual appointments are available for personalized help. Visit the library homepage and scroll down for the chat and appointment buttons.

Have a quick question and don't want to chat? Visit https://libanswers.dominican.edu/ for more information on their services and resources. Or, send them a message and they’ll get back to you ASAP. The library has amazing resources. Their databases include articles, eBooks, music, art, and movies. There are tutorials and guides ready for use, and the librarians can even craft one on request.

Now, for your reading pleasure:

Gary Gorka, University Librarian
“Dry”   by Neal Schusterman and Jerrod Schusterman

I am going to recommend a book I didn’t read, but my 13 year old Daughter just finished. A thrilling, realistic, and ultimately uplifting adventure tale of a Northern California family and their friends as they struggle to survive a widespread — wait.  Well, this sure isn’t escapist literature, is it? Actually it is. My daughter was swept away to a different world to watch how heroic (and not-so-heroic) teenagers deal with an unexpected but terrible California drought. It will definitely help your teenagers put their minds on something else, even if that something else is suddenly-all-too familiar. Elyse found it empowering and exciting and it even helped her appreciate her family a little — a great accomplishment at this age.

Kenneth Fish, Coordinator of Interlibrary & Consortia Lending
"Knockemstiff" by Donald Ray Pollock

This is a collection of loosely interconnected short stories that the reader gets to assemble as they go along. Though, at times, violent, and always gritty, each character feels like someone known from your hometown. That poor soul. That family from the other side of the tracks. Etc. The author, the king of the wrong side of the tracks himself, makes these characters come to life, befriend you long enough to steal your wallet, then disappear into the night like a bad dream. Definitely the best of the worst.

Nnekay FitzClarke, Reference and Instructional Librarian 
“Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng

Pulpy page turner that highlights the trials and tribulations between four women of varying economic status. The book starts with a mysterious fire but ends with a deep dive into the racial and political landscape of our country. It's currently a series on Hulu, if you would like to follow up the book with a visual companion.

 Ethan Annis, Head of Access and Technical Services, Librarian
“Evicted, Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond

We see homeless people in tent cities through our car windows or sleeping in doorways of office buildings built on obscenely expensive real estate. We see them all around us in the Bay Area, but we tell ourselves that we need to keep our eyes on where we're heading to avoid accidents and that stopping would be too dangerous. If we stopped and learned the stories of these homeless people, we would learn that many of them were evicted renters.  We would hear stories like those in Matthew Desmond's Pulitzer Prize winning book Evicted, which chronicles two landlords' experiences and the plight of eight poor Milwaukee families as they constantly struggle to find housing. Evicted provides an intimate view of poverty in this country. The families often pay 70-80% of their income to live in slums not fit for human habitation. Sewage is on bathroom floors and windows have holes in them. At one point a door falls on a mother's foot the day before she is to be evicted. She is too scared to complain and is evicted. At another point a house burns, killing a 9-month-old baby and the landlords muse about whether they had the required smoke detectors in the house.  The landlords profit from the insurance money from the fire. One family is evicted into the freezing Milwaukee winter. Evicted shows that the uncertainty and fear that many middleclass and wealthy Americans are experiencing due to the coronavirus epidemic is experienced everyday by the poor of this country.

Even though the poor are treated terribly throughout the book they are usually too scared to complain because they will need to defend themselves in court against better educated landlords and attorneys. They also fear retaliation. At one point the author, a Harvard sociologist at the time, goes to look for an apartment for one of the poor tenants. He is shown a well-maintained apartment in a middleclass neighborhood that is within the tenants' price range. When the landlord learns that the apartment is for a poor person of color, abruptly it becomes unavailable but he has a slum available for almost the same price. The author shows that this is a pattern.

Desmond, who moved from Harvard to Princeton, makes a compelling case to give housing vouchers to the poor. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize mentioned above, it won numerous other prizes and was one of the NY Times top ten books of 2016. If you want an intimate, engaging, readable, thoroughly researched book that shows how our country treats its most vulnerable, I wholeheartedly recommend Evicted.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot (The original review appears on Ethan’s blog http://blog.ethanannis.com)

In 1951 Henritta Lacks’ body died from cancer but some of her cells remain alive today. Just before Henrietta’s death, a small sample of her tumor was cultured and not only did it remain alive, it began dividing. It was the first time researchers ever got human cells to survive for long periods outside of a body. The cells have been used in thousands of experiments. They have been instrumental in finding a cure for polio, cancer research and many other advances in medicine. A multimillion dollar industry evolved to sell the cells.

Yet Henrietta Lacks is buried in an unmarked grave. Her children lack health insurance and live in poverty. The cells were taken without her consent or even her knowledge. Henrietta Lacks was a poor, African American, with a limited education.

In her masterful book, Rebecca Skloot tells the story of Henrietta and her family. She also explains the science of the cells and chronicles their history. Inevitably we see race tensions as a white reporter, Skloot, works to uncover details of the lives of Henrietta and her family. We see poverty too and how lack of education can limit the ability to even give informed consent.  Ethics of medical research are also explored at length, as are tissue rights. To contextualize Skloot describes such studies as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

“The Broken Earth Trilogy’ by N. K. Jemisin

As the tragedy wrought by the coronavirus unfurls, I cannot help thinking about N. K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy. The setting of Jemisin's trilogy is a planet that sometimes has a "fifth season." These are periods when the planet becomes inhospitable to life or just to humans due to climatic or geological events or plagues. During a fifth season, communities and empires that are unprepared and cannot adapt breakdown. The humans in Jemisin's world are divided into rigid castes and some humans, called orogenes, have the power to harness geological energy to stop earthquakes and move mountains. Although the orogenes are powerful they are brutally oppressed and feared. They are seen as tools and treated like slaves. The trilogy follows the lives of several oregenes before and during a fifth season. As the society breaks down, normally hidden social/power structures in the society become visible. As the coronavirus tears through different countries we see these different social/power structures in our world too.

For three consecutive years, each book in the trilogy won a Hugo Award. No other author has ever achieved this and in January The New Yorker had a long article on Jemisin. From the perspective of world building, the trilogy is a masterpiece, but it is so much more than a setting. It shows the racism we have in the US today and our structural inequalities from a vantage point that is inaccessible from non-fiction. Tragically, as the virus continues to destroy lives in this country, I believe that we will see that our society is not structured so differently than the society depicted in The Broken Earth trilogy where many lives are seen as disposable.

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