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MPPL's staff blog about books, movies, music and the talent behind them.

Asked at the Desk: Classic American Novels

Picture of Fiction/AV/Teen desk

When we receive the same question twice in one week, we take note! Here’s what two of your neighbors recently asked:

I haven’t read more than one or two of the classic American novels. Now I’m ready, but I don’t know which are most important. Also, do you have them as audiobooks?

We understand this can be overwhelming. Not only are there differing opinions about the most essential, there are different definitions of classic! Here we’ll suggest American classics in three categories to help you find your gateway.

Shorter American Classics

If delving into classic literature is new for you, try one that is not only short in length but also accessible in story and writing:

Great Gatsby book coverThe Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fahrenheit 451 book coverFahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury
John Steinbeck

 

American Classics by Authors of Color

Too many lists of classics limit the rosters to those authored by white men. Make the choice to invest in other perspectives.

Invisible Man book coverInvisible Man
Ralph Ellison
Their Eyes Were Watching God book coverTheir Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston
W.E.B. Du Bois

 

Most Cited American Classics

If your goal is to be familiar with books likely to be referenced in conversation or in other writing, here are three to know:

J.D. Salinger

 

Audiobooks are a great way to experience the classics! Let a talented voice actor bring great writing to life for you. Click for a sampling of American classics on audio. Lists of British classics and World classics are also available.

Interested in more suggestions? Stop by Fiction/AV/Teen Services on the second floor to ask at the desk yourself, or ask online to visit our virtual desk.

Book Discussion Questions: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let you go book coverTitle: I Let You Go
Author: Clare Mackintosh
Page Count: 388 pages
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Tone: Atmospheric, Haunting, Gritty

Summary:
Devastated by a hit-and-run accident that has ended the life of her young son, Jenna moves to the remote Welsh coast to search for healing while two dedicated policemen try to get to the bottom of the case.

 

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. This is Clare Mackintosh’s debut novel. In what ways did this book include autobiographical elements? How did it make her story more believable?

2. If you had to describe what kind of book this was, what would it be?

3. What other books that you have read that might seem similar to I Let You Go?

4. What did you think of the pacing of the book? Did it remain consistent throughout?

5. Let’s talk about style. How does the way this story is told differ from most novels? How does this style make the story work?

6. What ten words would you use to describe the characters Ian, Jenna, and Patrick?

7. How would you characterize Ray, Mags, and Kate and their relationships? Why are work relationships prone to romance or infidelity?

8. Which characters do you have a visual image of in your mind?

9. How did the author bring the settings alive? Describe some of the settings from what you remember.

10. This novel was released first in Britain and the author lives in North Wales. If you didn’t know that how did the story give you a hint? Did you find some of the language and police titles and procedures confusing? Was it off putting?

11. Do you think the author understood domestic violence well? How did that come across in her writing? How did this book give you a peek into how an abused woman might think and feel?

12. How do you see Ian grooming Jenna and the control and abuse starting? Give examples.

13. Who tried to warn Jenna about Ian before their marriage? Why didn’t Jenna listen? Why didn’t Eve or Jenna’s mother ever tell Jenna the truth about her father?

14. How does the abuser view his abusive actions? Where is the responsibility placed?

15. How does the victim view their being abused? Where is the responsibility placed?

16. What was the huge twist in the middle of the story? How did the author fool you?

17. The author had Jenna writing names and messages in the sand and photographing them. What were the practical reasons of why Jenna did this? What were some of the messages? How could her writing names and messages be seen as symbolic?

18. How did Ian feel about the baby and Jenna’s pregnancy at the beginning? What changed as time went on? What did Ian do? Who takes the blame? When does Jenna begin to put the blame on Ian?

19. Who was driving the car that killed Jacob? Why did it happen? Who felt responsible and why?

20. What were some of the many choices Jenna made throughout the story? What are the consequences of those choices?

21. Near the end Patrick is talking to Jenna after she is released and the trial is over. Why did Jenna confess to killing Jacob and almost go to prison?

22. Did you like the ending?  Why did the author make is ambiguous?

23. Are there any other loose ends in this novel or things that weren’t believable?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Book club kit from the publisher
Book of the Month discussion forum
Article: “The True Events That Inspired ‘I Let You Go'”
Kirkus Review for I Let You Go
BBC Breakfast video interview
Informal interview on Google Hangout

READALIKES:

The Widow book coverThe Widow
by Fiona Barton

Waking lions book coverWaking Lions
by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Redemption Road
by John Hart

Staff Pick: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Cathleen from Fiction/AV/Teen Services suggests Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed book coverIf you know anything at all about William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, you likely know that it takes place on a remote island buffeted by supernatural storm. So, the idea of translating this story to a literacy program in a present-day county prison may not be an obvious one.

In Margaret Atwood’s brilliantly envisioned Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold, a very specific play is staged both as class project and as personal vendetta for a director once ousted from a prestigious festival. Watching the action unfold in a clever remix of showmanship, we the audience are treated to parallel dramas that are equally riveting in their creativity, humor, and compassion. To paraphrase a line from the original play, “O brave new world, that has such stories in it!”
 
 
For more contemporary tales infused with Shakespearean theatricality…

Calibans Hour book coverCaliban’s Hour
by Tad Williams

In a fantasy sequel to The Tempest, one that also echoes Beauty and the Beast, the hag-seed Caliban takes Prospero’s daughter Miranda captive and insists she listen to his story.

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel

Because they believe that “survival is insufficient,” a traveling Shakespearean troupe brings art to those who remain after a global pandemic destroys civilization as it was once known.

 

Gap of Time book coverThe Gap of Time
by Jeanette Winterson

In the first of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, A Winter’s Tale is contemporized as the aftermath of the 2008 recession, following flawed but driven characters from London to the American New Bohemia.
Dead Fathers Club book coverThe Dead Fathers Club
by Matt Haig

An eleven-year old boy is charged with avenging his father’s death, possibly by his own uncle, in a clever and poignant re-imagining of Hamlet.

Sings and Arrows DVD coverSlings & Arrows
(DVD)

Each season of this brilliant Canadian television series showcases the staging of a Shakespeare play that finds its themes oddly paralleled in the current cast’s shenanigans.

 

Getting Down with The Get Down

Get Down poster image“You hear that? That is life. And destiny. That is the get down.”

Part two of Netflix series The Get Down recently dropped, and though it isn’t yet available through the Library, we know some of you are already primed to lose yourselves in the music, the style, the art, and the drama of the Bronx in the late 1970s.

The fascinating world of early hip hop is one born of frustrations, passions, and even activism. To experience more of this electric era, try one of these:

Hip Hop Family Tree vol 1 cover

 

Hip Hop Family Tree 1: 1970s – 1981 by Ed Piskor

The early days of hip hop have become the stuff of myth, so what better way to document this epic true story than in an explosively entertaining, encyclopedic history presented in graphic format? Piskor’s exuberant cartooning takes you from the parks and rec rooms of the South Bronx to the night clubs, recording studios, and radio stations where the scene started to boom. The Hip Hop Family Tree is an exciting and essential cultural chronicle for hip hop fans, pop-culture addicts, and anyone who wants to know how it went down back in the day.

Wild Style DVD cover

 

Wild Style, directed, produced, and written by Charlie Ahearn

A perfect point of contrast to a series that recreates the emergence of hip hop is one that was created during the era in question! Wild Style is a 1983 docudrama that celebrates the colorful lives of teens who live in the South Bronx (sound familiar?). There they are seen break dancing, creating graffiti art, and listening to raucous rap. One focus is on the figure of Zoro, who likes to spray-paint subway cars, another reference point from The Get Down in the character of Dizzee, played by Jaden Smith.

Adventures of Grandmaster Flash book cover

 

The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: My Life, My Beats by Grandmaster Flash with David Ritz

In the 1970s Grandmaster Flash pioneered the art of break-beat DJing–the process of remixing and thereby creating a new piece of music by playing vinyl records and turntables as musical instruments. In this powerful memoir, Flash recounts how music from the streets, much like rock ‘n’ roll a generation before, became the sound of an era, as well as his own rise to stardom, descent into addiction, and ultimate redemption.

 

Get Down soundtrack cover

The Get Down: Original Soundtrack from the Netflix Original Series

Whether you’ve seen the series and can’t let it go or you want to experience it vicariously, the series soundtrack will satisfy your yen. Featuring both original songs and era classics, the line up includes artists such as Miguel, Christina Aguilera, Michael Kiwanuka, Janelle Monae, and Donna Summer, as well as the talented cast. Consider this your hot summer soundtrack!

Nonfiction: Where the Water Meets the Sand by Tyra Manning

Where the Water Meets the Sand book coverOne of Tyra Manning’s biggest fears comes true when she is in the hospital seeking help with her addiction and depression: her husband is killed in the Vietnam War. A wrenchingly open memoir, Manning digs deep to share her journey of perseverance in the Where the Water Meets the Sand.

On Thursday, May 18th at 7pm you will have the chance to meet and hear from Tyra Manning herself as she joins us at Mount Prospect Public Library in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)/Cook County North Suburban chapter. The mission of NAMI Cook County North Suburban is to improve the lives of individuals with serious mental illness and those who love and care for them through education, support, and advocacy.

Click here to register.

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