New and Upcoming Books on Poverty

Hello everybody.  Hope you had a great summer!  Today’s book reviews cover the subject of poverty in America.

  1.  Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back-Row America by Chris Arnade (Available now)

Much like the 1890’s classic How the Other Half Lives, Dignity seeks to expose the true deprivations and downfalls of poverty with both words and pictures – in this case, in all different environments throughout the United States, from the inner cities to impoverished rural areas.   With the liberal use of photography, Arnade humanizes those that he writes about, instead of allowing them to be cast off as “those people.”  The writing is fresh, often quoting his participants directly, and allows new perspectives on issues that are often associated with poverty, like prostitution and drug use, without any excessive moralizing.  I highly recommend this book to anybody, but particularly if you’ve never taken the time to talk to a street person.

 

2. Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises by Jodie Adams Kirshner (Out November 19, 2019)

This book, written by a lawyer, combines street level stories of poverty in the city of Detroit during the bankruptcy years with accounts of state and city-level mismanagement of funds and resources that allowed people to fall so easily through the cracks.  The stories are heart-wrenching at times – I was particularly rooting for one man who got caught up in the vagaries of the legal system.  The accounts of the badly managed city, which led to bankruptcy in 2013, are concisely linked with those personal stories in a way that holds the city’s so-called leaders accountable for the suffering of the citizens.  A story of poor urban policy leading directly to poor outcomes for the community has never been so riveting. 

 

3.  Free Lunch by Rex Ogle (Out September 10, 2019)

This book, written for middle-schoolers but easily thought provoking for older teens and adults alike, is a true account of Rex’s life growing up in poverty in what appears to be the early 1990’s.  Rex experiences grinding hunger, faces domestic violence aimed at both himself and his mother, combats a discriminatory teacher, has his prized CD player pawned, and worst of all – for a 6th grader concerned with social standing – he is signed up for the Free Lunch program at his new middle school.  The embarrassment of having to give his name daily for his lunch, along with never having clothes that fit or a house he feels comfortable bringing friends to, would make a lesser kid depressed, but somehow Rex never loses hope that things will get better – and by the end of the book, things do improve for the family.  This book should be read by every child – poor kids can commiserate with the main character, and richer kids would get a very good sense of what it is like to live in poverty from Rex’s masterful writing.

 

 

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Who’s coming? GLAAWC Author Showcase and Twerk Your Work

Eachworth Journal, a literary collective started by Loganberry Books Author Liaison, Miesha Headen, and Writer and Workshop Leader, Charlotte Morgan, announced their first reading, “Twerk Your Work,” which will be held Saturday, September 21st from 12 noon to 4 pm at Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights. The reading is part of the Great Lakes African American Writers Conference Authors Showcase during Cleveland Book Week with the Cleveland Foundation and the Anisfield Book Award.  The day includes a tribute to Toni Morrison, a talk from Anisfield-Wolf Fellow Zachary Thomas, and readings from northern Ohio’s best prose writers of color.

Eachworth Journal seeks to locate and celebrate the best literature from people of color and to expand the audience of readers and writers for the purpose of enriching the body of emerging creative cultural voices around the region. TWERK is a neologism which means, “Taking words, elevating [them], and reading [them] knowingly”. Readers will be featured each hour.

According to Charlotte Morgan, who teaches nonfiction workshops with Literary Cleveland, “we wanted to give a voice to writers around town who aren’t often heard and have never been heard.” These are some of the featured writers:

Ava Reiss is a member of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). At an early age, her parents read to her fables and myths from different cultures. Her imagination filled with the fantastical. The love of a good narrative rooted in deeper mysteries carried over into her writings. (I’m an Asian-American Fiction writer, working under the pseudonym, Ava Reiss.) Piece: Cycle of the Lights: Fall of Ima.

Antoinette Wiley was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Antoinette M. Wiley has always had dreams of pursuing a career as a writer. Favorite writers include Eric Jerome Dickey, Tananarive Due, Octavia Butler, and others. Her primary genre is Weird/Speculative Fiction, but she also enjoys writing poetry, song lyrics, and binge-watching TV shows like Twilight Zone and Thriller. She even sees herself writing episodes of similar shows in the future, and possibly writing a feature film with Jordan Peele (a girl has big dreams). Having received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Cleveland State University, Antoinette has plans to pursue her MFA at Antioch University Los Angeles this December. Her story is called, Girl on the Stairs.

Brittany Ervin or Miss Brit is an author, writer and creative. Her debut book is entitled Real Talk: Quotes to Get You Through to Becoming a Better You which features her original personal quotes and affirmations.  Brittany also published a follow up entitled “Sincerely Yours: My Poems & Thoughts” which is a compilation of writings from her teen years to adulthood. Her selection is Unrealistic 

Nakia Creel. Nakia Creel  is a Cleveland based author. She is the mother of two strong young women. When she was a child, expressed her love for writing by penning poetry. An avid love for music has shaped her style for writing which is interspersed with real life experiences. Love, passion, and intensity comes together in her debut fiction book, Ashes.

Michael Payne. Michael works in the Center for Global Health and Disease at Case Western Reserve University. He describes himself as a man  of faith, family man, aspiring author, youth sports enthusiast, and biomedical science researcher. His selection is called Knights of the Cloth.

Leesa Priah. Leesa has been around the literary scene since the early days of the Poets and Writers League. She is an avid reader and spends time honing her craft by attending workshops around town. Her story, Crazy Love Mark. is from her memoir, Crazy Love.

Vivian Thomas. A recent graduate of Ohio University, Vivian has done a lot of work in improvisational acting and performing. She is also a poet who wants to travel around the world to experience different cultures. Her selection, Black Girl is memoir. 

Julius K. Ponder is a professional speaker and a Business Development Coach who published Stories of Forgotten People, his first collection of work in 2017. Described as “Short stories of all walks of life, sharing their pain, struggles, success and joy, these stories will force you to leave your bubble and walk in the shoes of the strangers we passed every day. These stories are the stories of forgotten people”. His selection is Four Best Friends.

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Book Reviews – Social Justice

On my ongoing quest to find excellent sociology books, I have come across some great books related to social justice, including sexual assault and racial relations.  Have a look…

  1.  Good Kids, Bad City, by Kyle Swenson.  This book is an account of three
    African-American Cleveland boys who were wrongfully accused of murder and imprisoned for many years – nearly half a natural lifetime – based entirely on the testimony of a visually impaired twelve year old boy.  The details of the history of the city of Cleveland and the racist bias that led to the conviction are sad, but impeccably researched and dramatically narrated by the author.  The miscarriage of justice is dramatic, yet the three men had maintained hope all those years that the wrongs against them would be righted, and in the end they prevail.  This is a great, engaging read.
  2.  Shattering Silences, by Christopher Johnston.  This book discusses the rape crisis throughout America, and solutions that might work to alleviate issues like cases not going to trial because of untested rape kits (which has been an issue in Cleveland).  Much of the book, in fact, is based in Cleveland, talking about rape from the viewpoints of victims, a nurse, a police commander, the sex crimes laboratory, the head of the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force, and a researcher seeking best practices going forward.  There are no punches pulled, all of these resources describe their problems and potential solutions in great detail.  Though it may seem overwhelming, the solutions to the crisis that are discussed seem to have been feasible in many communities around the country, and I look forward to these solutions being universally implemented.  Fantastic read.
  3.  I’m Saying No!, by Beverly Engel.  This book is designed specifically for woman who have dealt with sexual harassment, sexual abuse, or rape.  It discusses how to mentally fortify oneself to be able to say no in certain situations where a man is pushing for a sexual encounter (unless it threatens a woman’s life, of course, which is also discussed).  The book deals with the feelings of shame, anger, and body dysmorphia surrounding a body violation.  There is also specific discussion of childhood sexual abuse that I found very enlightening.  If you’re a bit of a “too nice” woman, this book will help level the playing field with men who might want to take advantage of that niceness.
  4. Bonus:  How To Be An Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi.  This one isn’t out yet, but I got to read an advance copy and I’m so glad I picked it up.  I took copious amounts of notes because I learned so much about racial relations, and I didn’t want to forget anything or forget his fantastic style of writing (much of the notes were direct quotes, that I am unfortunately not allowed to share).  It turns out that a white girl raised in a tiny Midwestern country town full of white people, sure had a lot to learn from a black guy the same age but raised in New York City and then the south.  Ibram really conveys a lot of truths in a compelling way, and made me think of things I haven’t thought about before.  For example, he talks about the ways that Black people can be racist towards each other by valuing lighter over darker skin.  He talks about how being “color blind” is a sham for maintaining racist structures.  And he talks about how racism is a construct wholly invented by elites to maintain their power.  He also mentions possible solutions, related to active anti-racism activism, that can reduce the problems that are induced by this fantasy that we all participate in.  This is one of the best books that are coming out this year, and in my opinion, everyone should read this and be prepared to learn.  (Out August 20, 2019)
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Forbidden Love: Lisa Jones Gentry and Joe Steele

Forbidden Love, penned by Harvard graduates Joe Steele and Lisa Jones Gentry, reminds one of Colleen McCoullough’s 1977 epic bestseller, Thornbirds, intertwined with the 2016 award winning movie, Loving.  Forbidden Love is a retelling of the sexual-romantic relationship between Father William Grau, a black Catholic priest educated at the Vatican, and Sister Sophie Legocki, a first generation Polish immigrant from Buffalo who took her vows of celibacy at age 14. Vows were broken, and Joe Steele was born in a home for wayward girls in Cincinnati.

Far from prude themselves, authors Steele and Gentry don’t pull any punches in describing the heated details of Bill and Sophie’s affair, wherever those details lead, such as a motel in Canada, a car in a secluded park, or a rectory. What’s fascinating about Forbidden Love is how Bill and Sophie violate the rules of the Catholic Church (sometimes right in the church) and the racial rules of 1960’s America. Bill and Sophie faced hostility from both black and white people for their miscegenation before the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision in 1967 and before the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This smart and sex book is a great read for its erotic content, scandalous tidbits, and its historic context.

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Five Tips on Writing from novelist Angela Crook

Novelist Angela Crook, who most recently authored the thriller Chasing Naveh, held her book launch at Loganberry Books on Sunday, March 10.  During the question and answer period in her well-attended event, she shared her wisdom about writing:

  1. Get support from a writing community.  Angela belongs to a writers’ group, named the LLAMAS. They helped her edit her books for content, style, and grammar. They encouraged to keep writing. If you cannot find a physical group, then Angela recommends linking with an online community, such as #writingcommunity on Twitter.
  2. Attend writing conferences. Angela, a lifelong devotee of the thriller genre, attends Killer Nashville which specializes in crime novels. She believes craft talk with other writers is essential.
  3. Find your ideal reader and let them read your stuff. Angela recommends reading Stephen King’s writing guidebook, called On Writing. In “On Writing,” King insists that writers must understand their ideal readers, the readers most likely to get attached to your work.  Angela effectively created a Dickens-esque serialized version of her first novel, Fat Chance. She gave individual chapters to her friends. After a while, those friends demanded new chapters weekly. Angela says they got perturbed if she delivered new material late.  She knew she had a winning novel.
  4. Whether you self-publish or find an independent publisher, make sure your work is well edited. Angela admonished the writers to curb their enthusiasm about getting their novel into the world before making sure that the novel is error-free. You present yourself to the world through your novel; don’t be shabby.
  5. Write at least one page every day. Yes, you must.

You can follow Angela Crook on Twitter at @navah74. You can buy her novels at Loganberry Books, the largest supplier of books by local authors in Cuyahoga County.

If you need more guidance on writing, check out local author J. Thorn, a frequent lecturer at the CCPL Skirball Center for Writing. He offers great tips on building an audience, marketing, and making money in self-publishing.

Looking for a conference? Literary Cleveland holds a big writing conference each year in August in connection with Cleveland Public Library.  Also, Loganberry Books will host a discussion panel for children’s book (picture books, middle grade, and young adult) writers during Children’s Book Week on Saturday, May 4 at 10:30 AM.

Are you ready to bring your book into the world? Loganberry Books’ Author Alley happens Saturday, July 6.  Registration is open.  Author Alley offers you a free opportunity to sell your book during Larchmere Festival and meet 50 other local writers.

Miesha Wilson Headen

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COMING SOON: The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins (May 2019)

Sara Collins’ debut novel, The Confessions of Frannie Langton, is simultaneously the heir to Sarah Waters and Toni Morrison that I’m always looking for, and also a completely new voice and incandescent love story I didn’t know I needed.

The person of slave-turned-English lady’s maid, Frannie, that Collins brings to life is so passionate and singular, I followed along breathlessly as much for her voice and keen vision of the her world (a world bent on destroying her) as to untangle the horrible crimes at the heart of her life. This is literary historical fiction at its best: a portrayal of an ostensibly different time and place that catches the reader off-guard with its immediacy and familiarity of human experience. To boot, Frannie and Marguerite’s love story is the most dazzling and unforgettable I’ve encountered in a very long time.

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Top New and Upcoming Psychology Books!

We are in the process of revitalizing our social sciences section, and there are two new, and one upcoming, psychology books in particular that I have found are wonderful reads!

1. The Collected Schizophrenias, by Esme Weijun Wang.  I cannot recommend this book enough!  Esme details her struggles with both schizoaffective disorder and chronic illness, relating her personal demons to the greater world.  Her essays cover everything from the failure of the higher educational system to appropriately deal with students’ mental illnesses, to medical disagreements over the form and function of diagnoses, to issues with the mental hospital system; but also go into great (and spooky) detail on her various psychoses and how it affects how she presents herself to the world.  For anybody wanting to understand either a person with severe mental illness, or the forces they are fighting against, this book is quite enlightening.  (Available Now)

2.  Never Enough, by Judith Grisel.  When it comes to addiction, there are many competing theories and it can be hard to make sense of it all.  Judith has written a book that condenses the latest research on how addiction affects the brain, as well as presenting chapters on each class of drug that explains exactly how they affect the brain and the person taking them, making it so that there is “never enough” of a drug for an addict.  Her book contains snippets of her personal experience, as she was addicted for many years prior to sobering up and getting into neuroscience, and she also suggests public policy reforms that are more in line with the latest research.  Highly recommended for anybody in recovery, anybody who knows an addict, those who work with the addicted population, and those in public service who have the power to change policies that hurt addicts – who are just people with broken brains.  (Available Now)

3.  The Wisdom of Anxiety, by Sheryl Paul.  Like many adults in the United States, I have suffered with anxiety for a significant portion of my life.  If you also fit into this category, this book is for you!  Sheryl reveals that those feelings of anxiety that we want to hide from are actually signals from the body that are trying to tell us that something is wrong.  Whether that something is internal or external, Sheryl is here to help with a combination of Jungian theory and practical exercises designed to increase mindfulness and access the body’s hidden knowledge.  She explains how various life transitions can increase anxiety – everything from the changing of day into night to the fear of death.  Learning that many other people have anxiety about the same things that I do was rather comforting in itself!  I have also been finding the exercises she prescribes to be immensely useful; I feel that my anxiety has decreased dramatically since I got a hold of this book and started to discover my inner wisdom (thanks, Harriett!)  (Available May 28, 2019)

–Reviews by Julie

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Survival Kit’s Apocalypse by Beverly Williams

When you read the words “zombie apocalypse,” you probably think you’re in for a gory fright-fest. But Beverly Williams’ post-apocalyptic novel Survival Kit’s Apocalypse is less about the horrors of its zombified world and more about the exquisitely personal terrors of trauma—and the relationships that can help heal them.  

            In this character-driven novel, the titular heroine Kit is fleeing both from the novel’s zombies (called “rotters,” a mostly standard interpretation of the classic monsters, albeit with hints at a twist in their origins) and from a hideously violent past. Almost preternaturally capable but psychologically stunted, as a protagonist Kit is relatable if not quite likeable. Her past traumas are treated with sensitivity and humanity by the author, but are still quite disturbing to read about as they are revealed slowly throughout the novel. The physical and emotional scars of her twisted upbringing are excavated through the relationships she develops when she arrives at a camp of survivors. There, she is drawn out of her shell by survivalist heartthrob Eric and his brothers Thom and Matt. The siblings also come from an abusive household, so they can relate to Kit as she struggles to not only live in this new world, but to thrive and belong.

            Scenes of head-popping rotter encounters and survivalist tactics are interspersed with slower, more nuanced set pieces in which Williams deftly develops the relationships between Kit and the other survivors, using quotes from favorite songs and authors to organize the scenes thematically. In addition to Kit’s struggles with self-harm and thoughts of suicide, she also experiences moments of joy as she develops her first-ever romantic relationship with Eric, finds a new friend after saving the meek but resilient Sam from her abusive boyfriend, and begins exploring what happiness and family might look like in the aftermath of societal breakdown.

As the camp members realize that the rotters are not the only threat they face, Williams brings home a central theme: humanity can be more monstrous than any supernatural creature.

While there were moments when I would have preferred greater emphasis on pulse-pounding action and fright over deep-thinking exposition, Survival Kit’s Apocalypse is ultimately a page turner which is deeply invested in its characters, and as a reader I couldn’t help but worry about Kit and her strange, eccentric new family. Although I came into the book expecting a thrilling tale of terror, in reality it is a surprisingly subtle parable of hope, home, and healing.

Survival Kit’s Apocalypse: Survival Kit #1 by Beverly Williams. Published 2017 by Curiosity Quills Press. 366 pp.

Review by Carmen Tracey.

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Comics For a Strange World by Reza Farazmand

     With sparseness and simplicity, Comics For A Strange World, reminds us of the beautiful absurdity in being alive. Whether the narrator is a smoking ghost, a caveman or a pigeon, Farazmand uses blunt honesty to delve into both common situations and bizarre adventures .
      The comics first generated a huge following on the internet and since then he has been able to turn his ideas into two books: the first, Poorly Drawn Lines was a NYT bestseller. Leaving very few topics untouched, he slyly comments on our internet obsessed culture (the pigeon goes online), our escalating culture of violence (a squirrel buys a gun) and religion (God gets called out for being an old man in a bathrobe).
      For fans of The Far Side, Sara Scribbles or Hyperbole and a Half, this book is not to be missed. Matthew Inman (best selling author of The Oatmeal) says it best when he describes Farazmand’s work as “Walk(ing) the line between deeply poignant and laugh-out-loud funny.”

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Moonglow by Michael Chabon

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon returns in top form with Moonglow, a riveting and thought-provoking novel… or is it a memoir? This sweeping familial tale, told via the deathbed recollections of a character the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather,” is neither pure fact nor pure fiction. A smart, engrossing, profound tale that ranges from prewar Philadelphia to Nazi Germany to a Jewish retirement village near Cape Canaveral, this masterpiece marks a new apogee for Chabon. His most daring book to date, Moonglow is peppered with deftly-handled narrative experimentation, balanced with liberal doses of humor, and peopled with sparkling, fully-realized characters. This book’s luminous insights will resound long after you close the covers. Like the rockets at the heart of the story, with a force sometimes terrifying but never less than awe-inspiring, Moonglow soars. You can read more and buy the book here.

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