Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I hope you had a great holiday, and that you had a chance to read some awesome books during your vacation. I'm sure that many bibliophiles had books/book accessories/magazine subscriptions/ereaders or tablets under the tree as well, so hopefully you've had some time to investigate.

(If you received an ereader or tablet for the holidays, you'll definitely want to check out our ebooks page, which will tell you everything you need to know in order to access our ebook collection. If you have questions or need further help, please feel free to call or stop by a reference desk. We're also holding drop-in sessions for those wanting one-on-one help; please bring your device! )

Over the Christmas holiday, I had a chance to read two lengthy but attention-grabbing books: Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, And the Search for Identity  and Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson.

Far From the Tree is a DOORSTOPPER. The actual narrative (minus the notes) runs about 800 pages. Yowza. Andrew Solomon interviewed families with exceptional/special needs children (deaf children, autistic children, severely disabled children, prodigies, children with dwarfism, children affected by Down Syndrome, etc) as well as families affected by adult children with schizophrenia and children (some adult, some not) who committed crimes (he interviewed the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine High School shooters, at length).  When possible, he interviewed both parents and children. He also researched the history of how these very different children and adults were educated and treated by society.  There's lots to absorb in this meaty read--not only in the tons of fascinating information about these families and how exceptional or different children have affected their lives, but also in the emotionally charged stories related by the families and their (grown) children. It's an impressive read, but can be overwhelming at times. In the chapter on deaf children, Solomon delivers an outstanding discussion about cochlear implants, giving both sides of the controversy careful due, and explaining both the benefits and significant limitations and problems of these implants. In the chapters on deafness, autism, dwarfism, and Down Syndrome, he interviews activists who challenge the inclination to "cure" such situations with devices, therapy, genetic engineering, prenatal testing, or surgeries, as well as those who support such inclinations. The chapters on adult schizophrenia and parents of criminals are the most challenging to get through; while the chapters on children afflicted with disabilities and disorders offer many stories of struggle, heartbreak, and challenge, there are also stories of acceptance, integration, activism (by both parents and children), and personal growth. Such stories are few and far between in the chapters on schizophrenia and crime (even less so in the schizophrenia chapter). As you can imagine, you really need to dedicate time to digest this book, but it's well worth it.

Although I was a Michael Jackson fan in my childhood, I didn't really follow his career post-Bad.  After Bad, Jackson was unfortunately more famous for his life outside of the stage and recording studio, and other singers and groups took my attention. Following Jackson's death, I've avoided the avalanche of Jackson biographies, because they seemed so exploitative. The fact that Randall Sullivan was a contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine for twenty years set Untouchable apart for me; rather than a biography by a "friend" or former employee, this is a comprehensive biography by a music journalist. Sullivan alternates between the early days and meteoric rise of the Jackson 5, the monstrous success of Thriller, and the last bizarre years of Jackson's life, including the multitude of lawsuits filed against him. I can't compare to other Jackson biographies, but this seemed to be a very balanced and thorough approach to Michael Jackson. It's definitely not a happy read; Jackson had an abusive childhood and a very tragic adulthood. For pop culture fans, it's a highly recommended read, although I will admit that I skimmed the chapters that dealt with the aftermath of Jackson's death (apart from the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray) lawsuit after another and one outburst from the Jackson family after another didn't really interest me as much as the chapters on Jackson himself. 

In an upcoming post, I'll blog about my favorite reads of 2012.

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