Staff Review

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

While reading this novel, I had to keep reminding myself that it was published in 1969 because of the themes that are so pervasive in today’s ongoing dialogue about gender. I haven’t read any of Le Guin’s work prior to this, but I can understand her ascendence to the heights of the sci-fi/fantasy cannon. The one caution I have for the more casual genre fiction reader is that there is a lot of words from Le Guin’s Hanish universe and that can be quite confusing at first. You don’t want to get your kemmer and your shifgrethor mixed up. If you can assimilate these terms and flip back to the glossary to remember the various words that the people of Gethen use to describe their frigid weather, you’ll be okay. Le Guin was also a poet and I think it really shows in what I like to call the thesis of The Left Hand of Darkness:

Light is the left hand of darkness

and darkness the right hand of light.

Two are one, life and death, lying

together like lovers in kemmer,

like hands joined together, 

like the end and the way. 

The humans of the Hanish universe are people that are experimental branches on the evolutionary tree. Genetically they are are all very similar except for one or a few modifications that make them distinct from the others. Genly Ai is a Terran native who has come to the planet Winter as an envoy whose task is to convince the king of Karhide or one of the several other kingdoms of Gethen to join the Ekumen, an alliance of other humanoid planets. As the name Winter would suggest, these humans are adapted to withstand remarkably low temperatures. The other (and much more interesting) fact about the inhabitants of Gethen is that they are ambisexual; in other words, they are completely androgenous for most of their reproductive cycle … until they’re not. This leads to a great deal of tension between Genly and the natives. He wants to classify them and finds the idea of a pregnant king strange while the people of Karhide and abroad call him a pervert (a Gethian term for a human that remains in a fixed gender state outside of mating). 

Part political intrigue and part treatise on gender roles and the way they shape human interactions and society, this novel is remarkable because it manages to sneak in romance element without the reader even really noticing until the very end of the book. Estraven, the prime minister and adviser to King Argaven, attempts to persuade the king into forming an alliance with the Ekumen but by pushing him continuously he only incurs Argaven’s wrath and finds himself exiled and out of a job. Genly too is affected by this shift in power and Estraven does everything in his power to help Genly out of it. The travel on sledges over great distances together to see Genly’s mission through and along the way come to an understanding of each other. Genly’s internal struggle throughout is centered around not thinking in the way he has been conditioned to by his own masculine behaviors. That in this place there is no binary. Hope and despair, light and dark, male and female, beginnings and endings all exist in a grand circle that feeds into itself. 

There’s some pretty significant Taoist influences and Le Guin takes an opportunity to explore spirituality in addition to the other themes that are threaded throughout her work. This story is not driven primarily by a plot and more by concepts except in a few places where it feels very grounded and much more easy to follow. This one is definitely a mind-stretcher, so pick it up if you’re in the mood for philosophical pondering or you’re looking for a unique experience.

-Katie

Staff Review

Leadership in Turbulent Times
by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Goodwin investigates how four presidents who each entered office during a national crisis and how they successfully guided us during that time.   

Abraham Lincoln entered office with as the nation on the verge of civil war.  Teddy Roosevelt assumed office after the assassination of president William McKinley to inherit a Coal Strike. Franklin D. Roosevelt entered office facing a financial crisis. 

Lyndon B. Johnson became president after the the assassination of president John F. Kennedy and he was able to engineer the passage of more civil rights legislation than any other president.  

All four men were brought up in various circumstances in their early life.   And, they each had their own reasons for entering office.  But, all four wanted to work for the greater good.  

Goodwin writes in a format ( I have never been one to pick up a history book.) that made it easy to follow the political machinations of the time periods involved. – JW

Staff Pick

BROADCHURCH TV SERIES
Recommendation by Nina Murphy

When a patron checks out a show I have enjoyed I can’t help but get excited for them, particularly when it’s a well done British murder mystery.   Somehow murders taking place across the pond seem less nefarious to me than those taking place stateside. Broadchurch, a three season TV program extremely popular with streaming services is available through Ocean State Library (Season 1 & 2 are available on the shelves at Rogers Free Library with Season three available for request from other libraries.

Broadchurch takes places in a fictional town near Dorset, England. The dramatic landscape of a massive cliff which looms over a wide empty beach provides a forlorn sadness to a very the sad reality: A 14-year old boy has been found dead below the cliff. As we discover with the twists and turns of each episode there are secret lives behind the townspeople which begs the question did those secrets play a part in the tragedy? To add to the tension is the working relationship between DI Alec Hardy, a seasoned detective who has for reasons we will learn later moved to this remote coastal town, and local DS Ellie Miller who is a product of the community and thinks she knows her residents inside and out.

Christ Chibnall was the creator and executive producer behind the series and more importantly wrote all 24 episodes of the series. He has created characters with complicated intersecting lives. Interesting production note which I did not know when I watched the series is the identity of the killer was kept from actors and crew up until the final three episodes. 

Broadchurch is the perfect antidote for a cool fall night along with a large bowl of popcorn. A word of warning: you don’t want to rush through this well-crafted production. Once it’s over you’ll only be frustrated that there are not more programs as well produced as this one.

Staff Book Review


Fictitious Dishes
by Dinah Fried

I LOVE this book!!!! If you are a fanatic about classics and art then you will certainly enjoy this. Artist, RISD grad and now author Dinah Fried opens the book with her memories of reading the classics like HeidiLolita and Moby Dick. One of the more significant parts of these books though, for her, were the meals! Some of us might not think twice about that! Fried uses her talents as an artist to recreate some of the meals she read about and then photograph them. These meals are carefully curated and include a small excerpt from the story about the food along with some helpful and fun footnotes. It’s something book nerds and foodies can rejoice about! – Kristin

 

Staff Book Review

 The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
by Abbi Waxman

I picked up this book because the blurb mentioned the main character being a bookish, self-proclaimed introvert. Those are some of my favorite kind of people! Well, this book was, cute. In the literary world that is probably an insult. But I certainly don’t mean it that way! It was a quick read, but I enjoyed it! The beginning reminded me a lot of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine but the surrounding story wasn’t quite as difficult. Each chapter begins with an illustration of her daily journal which adds a little humor and quirkiness.
– Kristin

Staff DVD Review

Disney’s new live action reboot of “Dumbo” is fun for the whole family, but I feel it lacks some of the key elements that deemed it a “classic.” Some of the parts from the original have been edited out to make it more appropriate for modern times, which is great, but I think deviating from the original storyline took away from the film as opposed to adding to it. All in all, it was a great film, but the original animated version from 1941 will always be THE classic. – Children’s Room Staff

Staff Review

Head-On: Stories of Alopecia
Editor: Deeann Callis Graham

If you know me, you know I am bald as the day I was born. I have Alopecia. I would wager money that most people have never even heard of Alopecia.  Sure you can Google the term and read about the disease but no website or pamphlet truly tells you what the diagnosis means and how it affects two percent of the population, emotionally. Well, enter Head-On: Stories of Alopecia. I sure wish this book were around during my initial diagnosis. The book is a collection of over seventy stories written by people of all ages who have had or have Alopecia. This book really covers it all. I strongly recommend reading this if you or someone you know has just be diagnosed with Alopecia. – Kristin A.