Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, April 06, 2018

Finding that One Book for all of One New York to enjoy

For the past several years, citywide reading programs have been cropping up all over the country,offering folks a chance to unite over literature that speaks directly to their community.

In New York City, it's year two for their One Book,One New York project that has four fictional titles and one memoir for readers to vote for as their selection this spring.

 Since I happen to be NYC adjunct(with my NY Public Library card and all of that), my interest is keen for this bookish event and with two of the nominees being modern classics( If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin and Esmeralda Santiago's When I Was Puerto Rican), I thought it would be good to highlight the also nominated trio of currently published novels to get a solid sense of what our choices are:

BEHOLD THE DREAMERS: This debut novel by Imbolo Mbue is set in the year 2007, where a new resident in Harlem is hoping that a new job will change the fortunes of his family.

Jenda Jonga has brought his wife Neni and their six year old son to the U.S. from Cameroon in search of a better life in New York. When he is hired as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a prominent executive at Lehman Brothers, Jenda is convinced that this man will be the one to lead him down the road of success.

The feeling becomes mutual, even giving Neni some work at the Edwards' summer home which will add greatly to the Jonga family's finances. However, the crash of Wall Street and Lehman Brothers in particular throws those well intended plans into utter chaos.

I've heard wonderful things about this book,including the ringing Oprah Book Club endorsement, and have been wanting to read it for some time. Fortunately at the library yesterday, there was a copy available(on display for One Book,One New York as it turned out) and it's now on my TBR.

This very true to today's headlines story has a lot of heart within it's pages and should make for an amazing and thought provoking read:

WHITE TEARS: Hari Kunzru's satirical look at hipster culture and cultural appropriation offers more than meets the eye, as his pair of musical wannabe leading men stumble into some possibly supernatural trouble.

Seth and Carter live in Brooklyn, making what Carter considers to be "pure" jazz music(if you rolled your eyes during La La Land, you'll know what I mean) for others to sample. As a lark, Seth records a man playing music in the park and that brief sound clip becomes the basis for what both guys use as the basis of a fictional lost album.

However, a mysterious man comes along to claim that the alleged made up artist in question,Charlie Shaw, was and is real. A few odd incidents follow this encounter, leading the two friends to seek the truth and face the scary consequences. This book sounds intriguingly snarky with a great beat that these foolhardy characters dance to at their own risk:

MANHATTAN BEACH: Award winning author Jennifer Egan leaps from short story land into novel territory with this tale of a young woman who steps perilously close to the true fate of her father.

When Anna Kerrigan was twelve years old, she accompanied her father Eddie to the Manhattan Beach home of Dexter Styles, a slick gangster. Eddie is there to demand that he be given a better job in Dexter's organization in order to take better care of his disabled younger daughter Lydia's needs.

Years later, Anna at age nineteen is working in the Brooklyn Naval Yard, now the sole supporter of her sister due to the mysterious disappearance of their father. She runs into Dexter at one of his nightclubs, falling into a brief romance that takes a dark turn when he realizes whose daughter she is.

Egan did extensive research into the New York of the 1930s and 40s in order to weave those details into the emotional narrative that takes these characters into uncharted country for them both. Doing such homework does pay off in the end, especially for the reader who gives the ultimate grade:

Voting is now open for One Book, One New York with the winner to be announced in May. Actually, having such great books to read and talk about makes us all winners, if you think about it. I hope that if you have a similar reading event in your neck of the woods, your choice of literary experience is as engaging and meaningful as this one promises to be:

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