“In our finest hours, though, the soul of the country manifests itself in an inclination to open our arms rather than to clench our fists”

meacham.JPGThe Brown Baggers met Thursday, October 17 to discuss Jon Meacham’s book The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels. 

Prompted by his reaction to the Trump presidency and the violence that occurred here in Charlottesville in 2017, Meacham examines other critical moments in American history. A well-known presidential biographer, he charts the influence Lincoln, Roosevelt, Grant, Wilson, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson had during moments of crisis, from the military wars to the struggles to achieve rights for all Americans. He also profiles Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and John Lewis, suffragettes Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, and Army-McCarthy hearings lawyer Joseph N. Welch. Meacham describes the way these men and women stood up to the prevailing sentiment to move our society closer to the ideals enumerated in our founding documents. 

Meacham notes that America has faced cycles of divisiveness, nationalism and racism before. His examples of anti-immigration, election interference and racial terror all have clear parallels to events in the news today. While honoring the pain individuals suffered, Meacham contends that each time, not only did leaders emerge, but individuals did what he encourages all Americans to do now: enter the arena (vote); resist tribalism, respect facts and find balance. This call to action ends the book on a cautiously hopeful note. 

Brown Baggers found the book approachable and clear and balanced. While we were familiar with most of the history highlighted, it deepened our understanding of each time period. It spurred us to talk about the current political divisiveness and dysfunction, the power of wealth redistribution and the shocking lack of agreement on facts. Meacham provides a framework for improvement, but doesn’t account for the fact that it is quicker to dismantle progress than it is to make improvements. The next generation of “angels” like the Parkland High School students and climate activists Greta Thunberg and Mari Copeny seem to affirm Meacham’s thesis that pitting hope against fear is the way to ensure justice. 


Other Works

About the Author 

New York Times Review 

Fresh Air Interview

Meacham’s Time article on Charlottesville 

The Brown Baggers will discuss There There by Tommy Orange on Thursday, November 21 at noon in the Central Library and newcomers are always welcome.

“If you wish success you must master the American language . . . I can tell in your face that you will not learn it.”

accordioncrimes.jpgBooks on Tap read Accordion Crimes by E. Annie Proulx at Champion Brewery on October 4. Most known for her short stories and The Shipping News, here Proulx examines 20th century American immigration using the conceit of one accordion that passes through the hands of Americans from Italy, Germany, France, Canada, Mexico and African-Americans. Almost all meet a grim death, as does the accordion itself after 100 years. 

We did like the research and detail Proulx included and some of the personal stories. However, it was a very long book without much connective tissue and brutal existences for most of the sprawling cast. We struggled to articulate the overall theme (and identify the crimes), finally landing on the fragility of the hope expressed both in the crafting and playing of the accordion and the American experiment as a whole. 

The highlight of the evening was when Peter Kleeman played his melodeon. He explained the similarities and differences between the melodeon and accordion and how each work. He also told us how the different ethnicities in the book tuned and played the instruments differently. He convinced us that Proulx was clever to make the accordion the main character because it is used so widely. Each group can be familiar with it but use it in ways that would baffle others, just as their choices in America can seem both rational and terrible to the reader. 



More Information:

About the author 

About the book 

Other works 

Also Mentioned:

The Red Violin (film)


 Books on Tap Information:


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Digital Inclusion Week 2019


What is digital inclusion?

Digital inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

Five elements of digital inclusion:

  1. Affordable, robust broadband internet service
  2. Internet-enabled devices that meet users’ needs
  3. Access to digital literacy training
  4. Quality technical support
  5. Apps and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration

What resources are available at JMRL?

  • Computers and WiFi for public use in every branch
  • WiFi hotspots to checkout
  • Equipment to scan or digitize personal materials
  • Downloadable ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines
  • Database resources
  • Chromebooks for use inside library branches
  • Free computer tutorials at every branch

Want to build your skills?

The Central Library is offering a series of three workshops through Grow With Google:

Grow With Google – Power Your Job Search with Google Tools
MONDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2019, 2 – 3PM
Discover new job opportunities using Google Search, and learn how to organize and enhance your job search experience using G Suite tools.

Grow With Google – Digital Skills for Everyday Tasks
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2019, 2 – 3PM
Learn how to manage work and life tasks more effectively using Google tools. Whether you want to build a budget, create a meeting agenda or organize your priorities, these best practices will boost your productivity.

Grow With Google – Design Thinking for Entrepreneurs
Discover how to create a collaborative environment where everyone is responsible for design. You will go through design challenges and sprints that can be incorporated into any workplace or startup, to unlock creativity and innovative thinking.

To build your skills on your own, try one of these websites: *digitallearn.org or gcflearnfree.org