Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab by Steve Inskeep

What forces shaped the culture, politics, and economy of the American South? The factors were many - it was not one man's doing - but NPR correspondent and author Steve Inskeep suggests that one particular man in the early 19th century played a key role in a struggle that allowed the South to develop as it did. That man was Andrew Jackson, and the issue was the forced removal of native tribes from the South. Inskeep tells the story in Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab.

In Jacksonland, Inskeep focuses on two men. The first is, of course, Andrew Jackson, an icon of American history. The second is Cherokee chief John Ross, whose name is mostly forgotten today. Jackson and Ross were not always opponents, as the latter served in a Cherokee regiment under Jackson in the War of 1812. Ross was elected to the Cherokee Council in 1817, became its president in 1819, and spent the next twenty years negotiating with government officials in Washington to protect tribal land. Jackson and his wealthy friends, however, had designs on that land. When Jackson became president, the removal of the Cherokee tribe from the South became inevitable.

As the subtitle suggests, Jacksonland is a book in which the author's sympathies are apparent. What will interest many modern reader are the stories showing that Jackson seemed like a cad to many in his own time. Critics, mostly in the North, decried the forced removal of native tribes who had previously been assured by treaties of their territory in the South. For a while, the issue was hotter than slavery.

I listened to Inskeep read his book on compact disc. I especially liked the final section that brings the story to date, telling how many Cherokees never left and others returned to the South. The audiobook was good listening for commuting and gardening for a week.

Inskeep, Steve. Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab. Penguin Press, 2015. 421p. ISBN 9781594205569.

Audiobook: Books on Tape, 2015. 10 compact discs. ISBN 9781101914953.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Disposition to Be Rich: How a Small-town Pastor's Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-hated Man in the United States by Geoffrey C. Ward

Recently, newspapers and social media splashed the story of actor Ben Affleck trying to hide his descent from a slaveholder from viewers of PBS's Finding Your Roots. Like author Nathaniel Hawthorne who changed the spelling of his name to disassociate himself from his ancestor, Salem Witch Trials judge John Hathorne, Affleck hoped contemporaries would not link his family to historic atrocities. In contrast, historian Geoffrey C. Ward, who has written best selling books and often works with documentary producer Ken Burns, has dealt with a scandalous great grandfather openly, writing A Disposition to Be Rich: How a Small-town Pastor's Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-hated Man in the United States.

In the 1880s, Ferdinand Ward rose very quickly from being a Wall Street clerk to heading his own brokerage firm, and he was so visibly successful for his clients that he was called the "Young Napoleon of Finance." His secret, however, was not his skill at investing but his ability to charm people to trust him with their money, which he used to pay for an elegant lifestyle. He paid investors generously with money he got from new investors. These pleased investors often gave him all the money back again to make even larger. Ward ran a Ponzi scheme 40 years before Charles Ponzi supposedly invented the practice.

For a time, Ferdinand Ward was one of the most-known men in America. Details of his trial and imprisonment were national news. Yet, today he is almost forgotten. Biographical reference book do not mention him and Wikipedia has a brief entry only because of his great grandson's book. A Disposition to Be Rich is the only ready source of the story for those unable to read newspaper microfilm.

The readers' advisory database Novelist recommends many books on Wall Street history as a follow-up to A Disposition to Be Rich. I think the most appealing part of the book, however, is that it is by author not adverse to writing about wayward family. This joins Ward together with Rick Bragg (The Prince of Frogtown) and Wendy Gimbel (Havana Dreams). These authors are unafraid of the past, unlike Affleck and Hawthorne.

Ward, Geoffrey C. A Disposition to Be Rich: How a Small-town Pastor's Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-hated Man in the United States. Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 418p. ISBN 9780679445302.

Friday, June 26, 2015

How About Never - Is Never Good for You?; My Life in Cartoons by Bob Mankoff

I seldom pick up The New Yorker now, but there was a time when once a week I would take the latest copy from the library's magazine room to our lunch room to read the cartoons during lunch. I would also glance at the "Talk of the Town" and the book reviews and scan the table of contents, occasionally coming back to the issue if I wanted to read the short stories, but the cartoons were the draw. I recollected this past with pleasure as I read How About Never - Is Never Good for You?; My Life in Cartoons by Bob Mankoff.

"How about never - is never good for you?" is the memorable part of the caption of Bob Mankoff's most famous cartoon. It has been enshrined in The Yale Book of Quotations and, according to Mankoff, been ripped off by comedians and the makers of T-shirts. He is collecting royalties on sales of the cartoon from the Cartoon Bank, which he founded, so he has profited. He tells stories about several of his cartoons in his multifaceted book.

How About Never - Is Never Good for You? may be called a memoir, but large sections of it deal with topics other than Mankoff. He recounts the history of cartooning and the story of The New Yorker magazine, and he profiles many of his fellow cartoonists. He also gives readers hints on how to win the weekly caption contest at The New Yorker.

Anyone contemplating cartooning as a career will find Mankoff's behind-the-scenes stories very instructive. The rest of us can appreciate the artistry and laugh at the many cartoons included. It is worth several hours of pleasure reading and may lead some readers back to The New Yorker.

Mankoff, Bob. How About Never - Is Never Good for You?; My Life in Cartoons. Henry Holt and Company, 2014. 285p. ISBN 9780805095906.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Real Story Sale with Free Reader's Advisory Training

The Annual Conference of the American Library Association opens today in San Francisco with pre-conference sessions and a scattering of group meetings. On Friday, after the Opening General Session, the exhibit halls will open.

If you are there and you stop at ABC-CLIO's booth (which always seems much bigger than a booth to me), take a look at the Real Story series of nonfiction reference books (including mine). If you purchase any of them, Sarah Statz Cords offers you free, individualized reader's advisory training via email. Here is how she states it on her blog Citizen Reader:

"I'll offer you a free session of RA training (your choice: general readers' advisory or nonfiction-specific) over email. We can discuss ways to widen your RA services, put together compelling nonfiction booklists, find great title awareness websites, anything!"

Sarah provides the details on her post Conferences, reference books, RA training, oh my! She makes the same offer on online sales through June.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart by Carol Wall

Carol Wall and her husband Dick never enhanced their yard. There were not any flowers, the grass was patchy, and the shrubs and trees looked weary, in need of pruning and rejuvenation. The couple was too busy to deal with yard issues beyond mowing, and Carol was opposed to flowers. Carol was sure their yard was an eye-sore to their neighbors, who had beautiful yards. Neighbor Sarah Driscoll was even a Master Gardener. Why did Sarah have a new man working in her yard?

This new man became an object of interest to Carol, a teacher who had taught English as a foreign language. She saw also him bagging groceries at the local supermarket and helping people load their plants at the parking lot of the local garden center. Unlike most hourly low-skill workers, he seemed to attract the attention and high regard from the customers. He spoke in an oddly charming way. Was he an immigrant?

In Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart, the author tells about her friendship with Giles Owita and his wife Bienta who immigrated from Kenya with their two sons to attend colleges in the United States. While gardening is a continuing theme in their recounted conversations, it is not really the focus of this book. Instead, self-discovery, overcoming self-imposed limits, and leading a full life prevail. There is also a mystery for the author to solve.

Ironically, most libraries have Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening in their gardening sections. Bonnie, who is also a librarian, told me that she thinks there is not really any better place in Dewey for this hard-to-categorize book. Being about non-famous people, it would be lost in biography. It could be placed with friendship books, but who ever goes to the library for a friendship book? Maybe we need shelves just labelled "Good Reading." It should be there. Check it out.

Wall, Carol. Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart. Amy Einhorn Books, 2014.  294p. ISBN 9780399157981.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hector Tobar

I enjoyed its reviews in newspapers and podcasts, and Bonnie and other readers whose opinions I trust recommended this book. I remember the story from 2010 as amazing and compelling. The probability that I would enjoy Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hector Tobar was high. The only reason that I have taken so long in starting is my to-read list is long. (I started to say over-populated, but you can not have too many books in your reading queue.)

Luckily for me, Bonnie borrowed the 11 disc audiobook of Deep Down Dark so I could listen while driving, cooking, and gardening. Henry Leyva is a great reader. I like how he moved easily from English to Spanish and back in this book, pacing well, and distinguishing different voices effectively. Of course, with 33 men in the collapsed Chilean mine and numerous important figures on the surface above, the task for the writer and the narrator to make each of them singularly memorable is impossible. Still I felt the voices were right as I heard them.

What I did not expect was the amount of the story that takes place after the miners were discovered to still be alive and after they were rescued. The one part of the story I would have like to be more detailed is the actual day of rescue. I am glad Tobar recounts about his interviews and tells how the miners have fared since the ordeal.

I would happily read Deep Down Dark again if it is chosen for our book group. If you wonder about conditions in mines and want a dramatic tale with suspense, even when you know the outcome, You may also like this disaster rescue story.

Tobar, Hector. Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. 309p. ISBN 9780374280604. 

Audiobook: Macmillan Audio, 2014. 11 compact discs. ISBN 9781427244505.


Friday, June 19, 2015

A Practical Illustrated Guide to Attracting and Feeding Backyard Birds: the Complete Book of Bird Feeders, Bird Tables, Bird Baths, Nest Boxes, and Garden Bird-Watching

With the title A Practical Illustrated Guide to Attracting and Feeding Backyard Birds: the Complete Book of Bird Feeders, Bird Tables, Bird Baths, Nest Boxes, and Garden Bird-Watching, there is hardly any need to write a review. The title explains how the book is practical, and the cover hints at how beautifully colorful. Judging books by their covers can lead to disappointment, but not with this book. I renewed it to keep looking at its thematic two-page illustrated articles and its projects. I might use several ideas to enhance our yard's bird-appeal.

The topics in A Practical Illustrated Guide to Attracting and Feeding Backyard Birds are wide ranging. Readers may learn about bird anatomy, physics, and behaviors, as well as how to attract them by offering feeders, fountains, and nesting boxes. Gardeners find recommendations for landscaping, while hobbyists find templates for wood-working projects. There is also an essential guide to birds who frequent yards.

Though the publisher is British, this edition seems to be aimed at the American market. The range maps show North America. A Practical Illustrated Guide to Attracting and Feeding Backyard Birds is a great selection for public or personal libraries. I am now returning it to let others enjoy it.

A Practical Illustrated Guide to Attracting and Feeding Backyard Birds: the Complete Book of Bird Feeders, Bird Tables, Bird Baths, Nest Boxes, and Garden Bird-Watching. Southwater, 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781780192802.