The Good Place (2016-Present)

TV Series – What happens after death?  Do you turn to dust, enter the spirit world, or join the realms of Heaven or Hell?  The Good Place puts a unique spin on the ol’ “What happens to us when we die,” question.

So you’re dead.  What now?  Enter the almighty architect and faithful guide to your afterlife, Michael. He’s here to help your transition from life on earth to death in the Good Place.  You’ve made it into Heaven!  Good for you!  For Eleanor Shellstrop, this reality is hard to believe.  She was pretty much the worst kind of person on Earth–self-centered, greedy, and has never done a nice thing for anyone in her life.  She’s pretty sure there’s been some mistake and any second she’ll be dragged down to the Bad Place.  She’s terrified Michael will realize his error.  In the Good Place, you are paired with your soulmate, and that’s how Eleanor meets Chidi, philosophy and moral professor.  They couldn’t be more different, but Chidi agrees to help Eleanor learn to be “good.”  With fellow couple, Tahani and silent monk Jianyu, the four delve into what it means to be good.

One of my favorite aspects of the show is that residents of the Good Place are rendered incapable of using curse words.  Eleanor has quite the risque vocabulary, which is censored and ends up saying “fork” often.  Janet is by far my favorite character.  Like a humanized robot version of Siri or Alexa, Janet is a personal assistant to each resident of the Good Place.  Simply say “Janet,” and she appears!  I love the show’s premise and incredible cast.  It’s hilarious, full of drama, and leaves us feeling good.  Check out Season 1 and 2 of The Good Place today!

NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman

Link

Book – Odd and unusual behaviors do not in and of themselves constitute a disorder unless they are related to a manifestation or, to a series of dysfunctions within an individual.  Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs one’s ability to communicate and interact with others.  This is often characterized by restricted interests, repetitive behaviors, intellectual deficits, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. Those with Autism can vary highly in their symptoms.  Current diagnostic material now includes Asperger’s, PDD-NOS, and Childhood Disintegration Disorder, which were at one time utilized apart from one another.

NeuroTribes is a must-read for anyone in the field of education neuropsychology. The book dives into the developmental history of our understanding of Autism and its implications for those living with the condition, their families, researchers, and the media.  Growing up alongside a family member on the spectrum of Autism and working with children who have special needs, NeuroTribes gave me significant insight into the drastic changes differential diagnoses and treatment of those with disabilities, has made over the decades.

Few would argue that a parent’s sole responsibility is to care for one’s child. Desperate to affect the course of a child’s plight, we need not wonder why parents of children with Autism unceasingly seek out answers to the behaviors associated with Autism & are willing to try new therapies, diets, and approaches — all in the hope of finding a cure.

Attempting various alternatives to give children with Autism the best possible interventions available, parents and aides alike will find comfort in knowing that efforts in helping loved one manage daily hardships, is an undertaking which numerous people share. Neurodiversity is not wrong, simply – different. Although countless difficulties abound in the lives of those with Autism, we can and should, embrace the way in which persons with Autism think and perceive the world.

NeuroTribes is also available on Hoopla and Overdrive.

In Pieces by Sally Field

Book – Many times while reading In Pieces I couldn’t help but think about Sally Field’s famous remark after accepting her second Academy Award “…you like me, right now, you like me!” I was struck by the fact that throughout most of her life, as described it in this book, she didn’t much like herself.

Many of the choices Ms. Field made in her life were because she was lonely, angry, and easily intimidated. She reveals a good deal about herself, which is often unflattering and sometimes disturbing. Her parents divorced when she was very young, her stepfather abused her, and others passed through her life, coming when they needed something from her, then leaving after. While her mother was present during the time Ms. Field was raising her own children, she didn’t step up for Sally when she needed her the most. Bit by bit, the mother-daughter relationship came together. This book is aptly titled in that her life was lived in pieces.

If you’re looking for a quick, “Oh, I want to hear more about Gidget and what Burt Reynolds were like,” feel-good story, this is not the book for you. If you like exploring the forces in peoples’ lives, particularly celebrities, and the choices they make, you might just like In Pieces.

Vox by Christina Dalcher

Front CoverBook – At first glance, Vox‘s cover appears simplistic and unassuming – but this, dear reader, we would be wrong to presume.

Vox takes place in contemporary America and follows Dr. Jean McCellan, an acclaimed scientist and feminist. She, along with all women, must adhere to a strictly-enforced 100-word per day government decree or suffer punitive electric shocks if she goes over the allotment. In no small part due to the “Pure Movement,” women are not permitted to work outside of the home, nor girls taught to read or write. The author’s readable prose presents us with a thriller into which we are intimately drawn and a world which Dalcher deftly navigates.

Good Morning America lists Vox as one of their “Best books to bring to the beach this summer.” Wow…how shall I put this, uh – no. While Vox is significantly less voluminous than Margaret Atwood’s hefty The Handmaid’s Tale and is provocative and worthwhile reading on Fall, Spring, or Winter day, but one for a hot, forgettable, summer’s day? Not on your life.

 

My Own Devices: Essays from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love by Dessa

Book – Minneapolis-based rapper and musician Dessa started out as a poet, so it is not surprising that she would eventually write a book. Like her songs, it’s personal and universal all at once, engaging and easy to read.  Every once in a while there’s a punchline that really feels like a punch and makes you put the book down, causing you to take a moment to fully absorb what you just read.

The common thread through the book is her on-again, off-again, tumultuous romantic entanglement with a man she calls X (who you could probably identify if you really wanted to). They fall in love, break up, get back together, hurt each other. Along the way, Dessa considers taking out insurance on her romantic disaster (as a writer of heartbreak songs, she might be out of work without it), shadows her little brother on a day’s work as an artisanal cannabis salesman, tells the story of the airplane her father built, and explores what neuroscience has to say about where love lives in the brain.

Even if you have never listened to one of Dessa’s albums, there is plenty of joy to get out of this book, particularly for the heartbroken and stubborn. Once you have read My Own Devices, you will have a richer experience of listening to her records. Two of her best albums are currently available on Hoopla.

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman (2015)

Book & Movie- Ove is an elderly man who just wants to be reunited with his deceased wife. In the past, his rigidity and ill-temperament has kept most social interactions to a minimum, until now, when a friendly family moves in next door and tests his inflexible ways, starting with a slight U-Haul truck mishap. Between Ove’s cynical outlook on life and the humorous exchanges between him and his neighbors, A Man Called Ove can crack a smile of even the callous of people.

I was absolutely thrilled when I found out that this novel was adapted into a movie. Although dark, suicidal ideology is persistent throughout the film, it is more of a dreary storm cloud that never precipitates. Much of the film is spent recollecting Ove’s past, from growing up in his father’s shoes to life with his former wife Sonja, each memory allowing the audience to commiserate with Ove’s irritable self. I have always been one who has appreciated the book more than the movie adaptation in just about all titles, and this is no different, however I praise the director for keeping to the storyline rather than taking it in a different direction. One last note worth mentioning is that the movie is in Swedish but has English subtitles! I for one keep the subtitles on regardless of the language but personally found it taxing attempting to keep up with the dialogue when I would much rather enjoy the movie as a whole.

A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

Book – The night her father died, Alice Kingston was attacked by a Nightmare from another world. A year later she’s almost done with her training as a Dreamwalker, someone who stops the Nightmares from coming into our world where they grow even more powerful and dangerous. But Alice isn’t sure she wants to be a Dreamwalker. Sure, it’s great having superpowers and getting to fight monsters with magical weapons, and her mentor Hatta is gorgeous and wonderful, but it’s dangerous work. A girl was killed by police at a high school football game, and ever since Alice’s mom has gotten more and more protective. The choice might be taken away from her, though, when a mysterious knight appears and attacks Alice and Hatta, and may have designs on the whole of reality.

A combination of Alice in Wonderland, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and #BlackGirlMagic, this was by far the most fun I’ve had with a book in ages. Alice is a delight, and it’s great to see Black girls get to be heroes in urban fantasy. I’m not a huge Alice in Wonderland fan, but I loved the way A Blade So Black takes elements from that story – the Red and White Queens, the vorpal blade, Hatta as the Mad Hatter – and incorporates them into a fresh new fantasy. My one complaint is that this is the first book in a series, and now I’m gonna have to wait at least a year to find out what happens next!

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

BooksWishtree is narrated by the oak tree Red. He is more than 200 years old, home to raccoons, opossums, owls and Bongo, an entertaining crow, who together form a delightful community. Red also is interested in the humans around him–in no small part because each year people come to tie their wishes on his branches.

When Samar, the little girl who lives across the street, ties a wish for a friend, Red feels compelled to intervene. He and Bongo concoct several schemes to help Samar and her next-door neighbor Stephen become friends. But everything becomes complicated when Francesca, the owner of the land Red stands on, decides to have him chopped down.

This is a fairly simple story, and I loved reading it. The personalities given to Red and the animals are amusing. The themes of friendship, inclusion, kindness, and appreciation of nature are ones many will enjoy. I highly recommend Wishtree as a family read-aloud because, even if your kids are old enough to read this by themselves–why let them have all the fun? Even if you don’t have children, you may just want to just read this sweet, little, well-written story for yourself. I certainly did.

Our collection has a number of books by Katherine Applegate, including her Newbery Award-winning The One and Only Ivan.

Melmoth by Sarah Perry

Book – Helen Franklin is not happy with her life. She’s worked hard not to be; she is atoning. An English expatriate, she works as a translator in Prague and has only a few friends. When one of them is given a mysterious package of documents by an elderly man working on his memoirs, he spirals into paranoia and fear, dragging Helen with him. Who is this person Melmoth who appears in so many historical writings? Is she a myth or a bogeyman, or is she truly the witness to all humanity’s wrongs, Helen’s included?

I first read Melmoth the Wanderer, the 19th century gothic novel that served as the inspiration for Perry’s new one, on the sunny patio outside my college library, so I was primed to love this book. This is a lovely modernized echo of the original story. In this version, Melmoth is a woman, a lonely creature who longs for someone as broken as she is to keep her company. Told in the fine gothic style of nested narratives – one character reading a story written by another character, which contains a story told to them by a third party – we meet a variety of Melmoth’s potential companions throughout history, from a sixteenth-century nobleman to a young German boy in Nazi-occupied Prague, to Helen’s own tragic history.

Although the story is all about guilt and atonement, and whether or not some things can be atoned for, it’s not as bleak as that makes it sound. There is also a great deal of compassionate humanity and people being better in spite of themselves. I’m happy to report that I loved this book exactly as much as I expected to, and I’m looking forward to whatever Sarah Perry brings us next.

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten

Book – If you’re too busy during the holidays to read a whole book, why not a short story or two? This tiny volume of five stories by Helene Tursten, author of the Detective Inspector Irene Huss mysteries, chronicles the trials and tribulations of an 88-year-old Swedish woman called Maud. She has no remaining family and no close friends, but she lives in her father’s old apartment rent-free and has the money to travel, so she’s quite content with her life. The one thing she can’t tolerate is other people infringing upon her settled existence, and when they do, she takes steps to stop them. Murderous steps.

There’s a certain perverse joy in watching someone get away with murder because everyone assumes that they couldn’t possibly be dangerous. Doubly so when the victims are so obnoxious. Haven’t we all wished we could come up with a permanent solution to a loud, angry, abusive neighbor? Of course, most of us aren’t as clever as Maud. Save yourself the trouble and enjoy her solutions vicariously instead.