There’s no better way to relax during the holidays than getting lost in the pages of a great book. Check out the staff recommendations below for great picks in fiction and nonfiction. Happy holidays—and happy reading!
THE MOOR’S ACCOUNT by Laila Lalami (Pantheon, 2014)
Laila Lalami’s richly detailed historical novel tells stories of leadership, struggle, and, in some ways, redemption. The Moor’s Account introduces us to historical figure Estebanico (also known to readers as Mustafa), an early but involuntary explorer of America. Estebanico’s historical record relates exclusively to his role as slave to Spanish nobleman Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, who enlisted in Pánfilo de Narváez's doomed expedition to Florida in 1527. In the novel, Estebanico helps the expedition reach the continent despite great obstacles. He then leads a group of survivors to the Spanish colonial capital in Mexico, where he expects to be formally granted freedom and passage home to Morocco.
The depth of Lalami’s research and her powers of description blur the lines of fact and fiction. The story itself challenges preceding narratives, as Lalami gives voice to the silences of the Narváez expedition’s official record. In imagining the lives of Estebanico, his family, and the indigenous peoples he encountered on the journey, she offers alternative perspectives on American history.
The Moor’s Account was nominated for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize. Check out Lalami's other works for consistently beautiful writing: Secret Son and Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits.
Reviewed by Anna Robinson (Islamic and Near Eastern Studies and South Asian Studies Librarian)
TWO PROSPECTORS: THE LETTERS OF SAM SHEPARD AND JOHNNY DARK, edited by Chad Hammett (University of Texas Press, 2013)
Forty years of correspondence between Sam Shepard (dramatist, screenwriter, actor, director) and his close friend and former father-in-law Johnny Dark are contained in this absorbing volume. Editor Chad Hammett began with 1,000 pages of letters (and almost 40 hours of taped conversations) and edited them down to a work of 383 pages. The Shephard-Dark correspondence begins in 1972 and ends in 2011. Woven into their exchanges on the creative process, writers, relationships, family, and daily goings-on is an underlying interest in the life of the mind, and life as a study toward something finer or more interior.
The letters have freshness and sincerity, as when Dark writes to Shepard, in June 1998, “Did I tell you I was very touched by yr letter... I guess I was touched by the openness of the letter and also by the awareness implied by what you were saying.” It seems the honesty in these exchanges is what allowed Shepard and Dark to feel free enough to release them for publication. Overall, the collection provides an intriguing look at the inner lives of the correspondents.
Reviewed by Tony De Marinis (Librarian Supervisor, Preservation)
THE PSYCHOPATH TEST: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE MADNESS INDUSTRY by Jon Ronson (Riverhead, 2011)
We use the word psycho to describe inexplicably outlandish or violent behavior, but do you have to wear a hockey mask and wield a chainsaw to be a psychopath? The obvious answer is that not all psychopaths share a liking for implements of death, and more people suffer from this mental disorder than become deranged killers from B-movies. The reality is that we’re surrounded by high-functioning psychopaths (at 1% of the population, there are approximately 3.1 million in the United States) who go through life with an undiagnosed mental disorder.
The frightening possibility that we’re likely to encounter psychopaths in everyday life motivates author Jon Ronson (The Men Who Stare at Goats) to train himself to identify psychopaths using a scientific method: the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. With this newfound criteria, Ronson meets with businessmen, politicians, convicts, and other characters to find out what defines a psychopath. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “could I be a psychopath?” read this book and breathe easy, because you’re most definitely not a psychopath. I listened to the audio version of Ronson's book during a nine-hour solo drive and found the miles and hours flying by as he took me on a captivating and often quite funny journey through the inner workings of human madness.
Reviewed by Eliot Boden (E-Learning Librarian)
DORIS SALCEDO EXHIBITION CATALOG (Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 2015)
“There is nothing more human than mourning; it restores humanity,” says Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo. Salcedo creates exquisite works that expose and memorialize human suffering, serving as a public call not to forget. As witness to the longest-running civil war in the Western Hemisphere, she has many experiences to draw upon.
Salcedo’s 30-year career was the focus of the first major retrospective exhibition of her work, which took place earlier this year at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Since I missed this show myself, I’ve appreciated the essays and more than 100 plates in the accompanying exhibition catalog, Doris Salcedo. Both the text and the images provide insight into the artist’s works and practice, such as her research and innovative, labor-intensive techniques. In A Flor de Piel (2014), treated rose petals were sewn together by hand to form a 40-foot-long memorial shroud to a torture victim. Palimpsest, a work in progress, originates from interviews with American mothers who have lost children to gun violence. Palimpsest is proposed as a plaza where the ground will weep the names of the victims; the tears will be formed by droplets of water that come up from the ground in a cyclical nature. Overall, the retrospective catalog serves as an illuminating document of Salcedo’s timeless and important body of work.
Reviewed by Jenny Akins (Subject Librarian for Art and Architecture)