Monday, March 26, 2012

For July: Running the Books by Avi Steinberg

We have selected Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg for July,
Avi Steinberg is stumped. After defecting from yeshiva to Harvard, he has only a senior thesis essay on Bugs Bunny to show for his effort. While his friends and classmates advance in the world, he remains stuck at a crossroads, unable to meet the lofty expectations of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing. And his romantic existence as a freelance obituary writer just isn’t cutting it. Seeking direction—and dental insurance—Steinberg takes a job as a librarian in a tough Boston prison.

The prison library counter, his new post, attracts con men, minor prophets, ghosts, and an assortment of quirky regulars searching for the perfect book and a connection to the outside world. There’s an anxious pimp who solicits Steinberg’s help in writing a memoir. A passionate gangster who dreams of hosting a cooking show titled Thug Sizzle. A disgruntled officer who instigates a major feud over a Post-it note. A doomed ex-stripper who asks Steinberg to orchestrate a reunion with her estranged son, himself an inmate. Over time, Steinberg is drawn into the accidental community of outcasts that has formed among his bookshelves — a drama he recounts with heartbreak and humor. But when the struggles of the prison library — between life and death, love and loyalty — become personal, Steinberg is forced to take sides.

Running the Books is a trenchant exploration of prison culture and an entertaining tale of one young man’s earnest attempt to find his place in the world while trying not to get fired in the process. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

For June: Children and Fire by Ursula Hegi

We have selected Ursula Hegi's novel Children and Fire for June:
Though more than fifteen years have passed since Ursula Hegi’s Stones from the River captivated critics and readers alike, it retains its popularity, is on academic reading lists, and continues to be adopted by book groups.
Also set in Burgdorf, Germany, Hegi’s Children and Fire tells the story of a single day that will forever transform the lives of the townspeople. At the core of this remarkable novel is the question of how one teacher—gifted and joyful, passionate and inventive—can become seduced by propaganda during the early months of Hitler’s regime and encourage her ten-year-old students to join the “Hitler-Jugend” with its hikes and songs and bonfires. Membership, she believes, will be a step toward better schools, better apprenticeships.
How can a woman we admire choose a direction we don’t admire? So much has changed for the teacher, Thekla Jansen, and the people of Burgdorf in the year since the parliament building burned. Thekla’s lover, Emil Hesping, is sure the Nazis did it to frame the communists. But Thekla believes what she hears on the radio, that the communists set the fire, and she’s willing to relinquish some of her freedoms to keep her teaching position. She has always taken her moral courage for granted, but when each silent agreement chips away at that courage, she knows she must reclaim it.
Hegi funnels pivotal moments in history through the experiences of individual characters: Thekla’s mother, who works as a housekeeper for a Jewish family; her employers, Michel and Ilse Abramowitz; Thekla’s mentally ill father; Trudi Montag and her father, Leo Montag; Fräulein Siderova, midwife to the dying; and the students who adore their young teacher. As Ursula Hegi writes along that edge where sorrow and bliss meet, she shows us how one society—educated, cultural, compassionate—can slip into a reality that’s fabricated by propaganda and controlled by fear, how a surge of national unity can be manipulated into the dehumanization of a perceived enemy and the justification of torture and murder.
Gorgeously rendered and emotionally taut, Children and Fire confirms Ursula Hegi’s position as one of the most distinguished writers of her generation.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Our March Author: Malalai Joya

This month we are reading A Woman Among Warlords by Malalai Joya. Joya served in the Afghan parliament until she was banned in 2007 for denouncing the presence of warlords and war criminals in that legislative body.  She continues to speak out for the rights of Afghan women and the cause of democracy. The author has her own multilingual website.  Do check that out for the latest news and comment and give a moment to the archive which contains more video clips like the one below from her appearance before the Loya Jirga of December 2003 which propelled her into international prominence.

A couple of older interviews are available online from New Statesman and PBS Now:
NOW: What is it like to fight for women's rights in your country?

To fight for women's rights in a besieged and benighted country like Afghanistan is accepting a big risk with many challenges. It is like going against water current. But it is a proud and shining struggle and through it we can teach the dark-minded misogynist elements that women are capable to change the world when they move into action. 
 Here she is being interviewed by Sonali Kolhatkar on Uprising.

There are several other lengthy videos of her book tour appearances here in the states. Take your pick-- Harvard with Noam Chomsky, Villanova (also available for download via iTunes), Uptake in Minneapolis.

Speaking of our friend Sonali, be sure to check out the Afghan Women's Mission website. It has been a while since we collaborated with this organization, which sponsored Malalai Joya's book tour last year, so this is a great opportunity to get reacquainted.

Catch up with Amnesty's work on Afghanistan here and be sure to take action on behalf of Afghan women.

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