Book Review: There There by Tommy Orange

Tommy Orange

Though a work of fiction, Tommy Orange’s debut novel, There There, is steeped in history. And not just one kind. Entire chapters deal directly with the history of Native peoples in the Americas and their largely tragic encounters with European colonizers. It can be argued that the entire book, set in modern day, permeates with the centuries old theme of searching for identity in the face of cultural destruction. On a different level, it also explores the private histories that shape the everyday actions of all people. Orange expertly weaves together numerous personal stories into one greater tale, one where the individuals he follows, all with at least some Native lineage, make their way towards a sprawling powwow event in Oakland, California. And like much of the history that Orange touches upon throughout the novel, this book turns into a tragedy by the final pages. However, like in all tales, there are moments of beauty and sadness and humor that give the novel its soul. Individuals are the driving force of being human, and that is no different here. Eventually, these vignettes all come crashing together to create a complex story where multiple strands eventually connect into a heartbreaking tapestry.

Orange’s technique of highlighting a wide variety of characters proves to be both the strength and weakness of There There. The ones that hit truly hit. They make you feel both the huge theme of the Native American experience in the United States, particularly the one born in urban areas, while also exploring the pain that is both common and unique to all of us.  A young man named Edwin Black was one of my favorites. In his first featured vignette, he is awkward, overweight, and self-isolated, totally unsure of where he fits in the world. Which brings up a question: what is it like to feel ostracized within a larger group that is already largely excluded from the society it exists in? Eventually, though, his arc transforms into one of cautious hopefulness. He becomes deeply involved in the planning of the powwow and contacts the man he believes to be his father through his mom’s Facebook account. Another character that helps bring true emotional depth to the book is that of a woman named Jacquie Red Feather. Her devastating story of family strife, abandonment, and alcoholism is perhaps the most powerful among several worthy contenders. A speech she gives at an AA meeting led by the long-disappeared father of her first child perfectly encapsulates the struggles felt throughout the novel, those of regret and tenuous optimism for the future. Continue reading

Halloween Book Review: From Hell by Alan Moore

The “Jack the Ripper” murders of the 1880s in London have long held the imagination of popular culture in both England, where they occurred, and the United States, where a fair number of people hold a fascination with famous serial killers. The graphic novel From Hell, by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, proved to be an interesting read this Halloween season for these very reasons. It would probably be a stretch to define it as work of horror, but there are certain elements present that make it a prime example of unsettling and weird fiction.

Moore uses his fictionalized telling of the murders of several prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London to posit a theory about who Jack the Ripper may have been. It would be impossible to talk about all of the truly massive cast of characters in this graphic novel, but two certainly stand out: Sir William Gull and Fred Abberline (Spoilers ahead). Gull is the royal physician to Queen Victoria and a high-ranking member of the Freemasons in London. After her grandson has an illegitimate child, Victoria tasks Gull with essentially making the problem go away. Thus begins the action of the story, as Gull sets out to kill the women who know about the scandal in order to protect the royal family. However, he also begins to see the murders as a spiritual experience, having visions of the future during which we as modern readers know to be actual truth. Continue reading

Spooky Scary! Spend Halloween with the Films of Kanopy

Have you been looking for a few films to give you chills during this year’s spooky season? Are you wanting to put together a movie marathon in a pinch for your Halloween night celebration? Luckily, there is a wide variety of horror selections offered on Kanopy, currently available through the University of Memphis Libraries. Here are a few that I recently viewed that may be good additions to your fright night watch list. Everyone have a safe and spooky Halloween!

The Witch

The first movie on the list will satisfy any potential cravings you may have for historical scares. It follows the sufferings of an English family banished from the Puritan Plymouth Colony in New England as it struggles to survive in an unforgiving wilderness. This atmospheric gem from A24 (which has produced some excellent horror movies, several available on Kanopy right now!) is a slow burn of existential fear, but the final fast-paced act makes the payoff that much better. As the family deteriorates both mentally and physically, they must determine if there really is a witch in those dark and unforgiving woods. And, if so, who is it? And does that wicked goat Black Phillip have anything to do with the family’s impending doom? It is worth a watch to find out their fate. Continue reading

Theodore Roosevelt and the American Legacy of Conservation

Theodore Roosevelt

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

‘There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon in the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever with their majestic beauty unmarred.’ -Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, was born on October 27, 1858. In honor of his upcoming birthday, it seems proper to highlight some of his countless triumphs in the political realm and beyond, and to display his influence on the Government Publications Department here, and to others around the country. Throughout the years, both during his lifetime and following his death in 1919, Roosevelt (or “Teddy,” which he actually hated to be called!) morphed into an almost mythical character in American history. When examining just a few of his more famous accomplishments, it is not hard to understand why. He first rose to national fame during the Spanish-American War in 1898, where he formed the infamous Rough Riders military squadron, comprised of former Ivy Leaguers, outdoorsmen, cowboys, and Native Americans.

In 1901, following the assassination of William McKinley, Roosevelt became the youngest American President ever at age 42. His administration was defined by Roosevelt’s battles against big business and his efforts to protect American citizens through the idea of a “Square Deal.” However, one of the more lighthearted events during his presidency actually occurred in our southern neighbor of Mississippi. During a hunting trip in 1902 near the Delta town of Rolling Fork, Teddy refused to shoot a bear that organizers had tied to a tree, claiming it was unsporting. The story grew to nationwide fame, leading to a shopkeeper selling stuffed animals coined “Teddy Bears.” President Roosevelt also became the first American to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 due to his efforts in brokering a peace agreement ending a war between Russia and Japan. Continue reading

Book Review: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications:

Esi Edugyan, with the highly acclaimed novel Washington Black (one of President Obama’s favorite books of 2018!), has written a harsh but touching story of a runaway slave and his journey to find identity and his place in the world. The title character, Washington Black, or Wash as he comes to be known, is a field slave early in life on a sugar plantation in Barbados. Watched over by a female slave named Big Kit, his world is one of unceasing labor and vicious treatment at the hands of the plantation owner and overseers. Erasmus Wilde, whose family owns Faith Plantation, rules over it with brutality, displayed in his almost casual violence towards the slaves, viewing them truly as mere property. Sugar plantations were historically notorious in the Caribbean for their awful and inhumane working conditions. Therefore, it is not unrealistic that Erasmus treats his slaves in such a manner, something he explains to his brother Christopher: ‘My language cannot offend her. She has no sensibilities to offend . . . They are not the help, Titch. They are the furniture.’ Continue reading

Constitution Day: September 17th

Written by Benjamin Clanton and Meghan Campbell, Government Publications:

On September 17, 1787, delegates to the aptly named Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the U.S. Constitution, setting in place the structure of our nation’s government that is still followed today. We here in Government Publications regularly handle documents that relate to what was adopted on that day over two hundred years ago. One of the wonderful things about the Constitution is that avenues were put in place to make additions and changes to its original form. With that in mind, we have written about a couple of Constitutional Amendments that both intrigue us and have personal meaning to us as individuals. Enjoy and have a wonderful Constitution Day!

Join us on the 2nd Floor Commons Area in McWherter Library today from 12 – 3 pm, where you can pick up a U.S. Constitution and snacks, and watch a documentary titled The Words that Built America. Continue reading

Kanopy Movie Review: Throne of Blood

Throne of Blood logoFog rolls across a desolate landscape. A chanting song gives an ominous command to the viewer: “Look upon the ruins / Of the castle of delusion.” Thus begins Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 film ‘Throne of Blood,’ a retelling of William Shakespeare’s infamous play ‘Macbeth’ set in feudal Japan. Kurosawa, considered a master of Japanese cinema and samurai films, provides a haunting portrait of ambition and the corruption of power. So, if you like murder and betrayal, prophecy and the descent into madness, this is one you should check out. Continue reading