Reader's Link - January 2013 Staff Picks Archive

Icy hot

We Sinners

Title: We Sinners
By: Hanna Pylväinen

This is a first novel with a precise and biting viewpoint. Or, rather, viewpoints; the perspective shifts repeatedly from one member to another of a large Finnish-American family riven by the religion meant to bind them. Pylvainen’s prose is spare, but there’s lava beneath the surface, always threatening. Will her next work be equally contained, or will that etched prose explode? Well worth reading for itself, and as entrée to the career to come.

View similarly tagged posts: fiction
Posted by curious on Jan. 29, 2013 at 8 a.m.

Reading Grapes of Wrath in the 21st Century

The Grapes of Wrath

Title: The Grapes of Wrath
By: John Steinbeck

According to Steinbeck scholars, the Grapes of Wrath is the most thoroughly discussed novel in 20th century American literature. But a reading in the 21st century can enable us to have deeper discussions, such as the practice of bank foreclosures and their aftermath. Lured by the promises on handbills, the foreclosured Joad family took Route 66 to come to California from Oklahoma. Their hope to make a decent living was soon dashed by California farmers’ obsession with finding the cheapest labor to assure maximum profit. As one of the governing rules of the free market, it caused the oversupply of labor when the Dust Bowl swept across the prairie lands in the 1930s, a phenomenon not unlike 1849’s Gold Rush and today’s fragile globalized economy. During the process, much of the established infrastructure has been sold or destroyed, from farming to manufacturing, from banking to information services and technologies.

In addition, the book dissects some weakness in human nature, i.e., self-preservation and self-protection in the face of threatening competition, thus the antagonism between the haves and the have-nots, and the affluent locals and the Okies. The government aid in the form of Weedpatch Camp, a New Deal agency, was simply too little to help numerous displaced and needy migrants. The traditional trust in family as a helping unit became unreliable. Poor migrant families came to the painful realization that they could get help only from their fellow poor migrants. But such a realization is only relative, for there will always exist a new conflict between early settlers and those who arrive later. Even in the case of the Joad family, they enjoyed a temporary superior status on a cotton farm, “The Joads had been lucky. They got in early enough to have a space in the boxcars. Now the tents of the late-comers filled the little flat, and those who had the boxcars were old- timers, and in a way aristocrats.”

The Grapes of Wrath is a powerful reading, especially in its portrayals of hardy but resourceful characters like Tom and Ma, so as to provide us with glimpses of hope. Confronted with a penniless future, the Joads and Wainwrights celebrated a new union for their son and daughter. After the mourning of her stillborn baby, Rosasharn lost no time nursing back another human life.

View similarly tagged posts: fiction,classics
Posted by Hui-Lan on Jan. 22, 2013 at 6:13 p.m.

Dude, where's my data?

Tubes: a journey to the center of the Internet

Title: Tubes: a journey to the center of the Internet
By: Andrew Blum

2012 was a good year for offbeat travelogues. (See the review of Andrew Blackwell’s "Visit Sunny Chernobyl" elsewhere in our staff picks.) Tubes is a delightful surprise. Blum begins by tripping over a router cable at home, and ends up, after international gallivanting, with an enlightened perspective on domestic digital clutter. The voyage between is fascinating.

View similarly tagged posts: non-fiction
Posted by curious on Jan. 11, 2013 at 10:55 a.m.

The new kid is just like you, but it takes awhile to realize that.


Title: Wonder
By: R.J. Palacio

Wonder is a remarkable first novel by R. J. Palacio. We have it in J Fiction, but I highly recommend it for readers of any age. Auggie - a child with severe facial deformities - is about to enter fifth grade at Beecher Prep after being homeschooled and protected all his life. The book is written in short journal like chapters by Auggie, his classmates, family and friends. It's hard enough to be the new kid when you are ordinary in every way, but how will it work out for Auggie who feels ordinary except for his face? This book is uplifting, emotional, lively and realistic. Enjoy it with wonder.

View similarly tagged posts: fiction,kids fiction
Posted by ogradyj on Jan. 7, 2013 at 4:22 p.m.

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