“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments when you shouldn’t be?”

thehateugiveBooks on Tap read and discussed the CvilleOneBook title The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas on Thursday, October 4 at Champion Brewery. The award-winning young adult novel is being read and discussed in local schools this fall thanks to a specially printed edition of the book funded by community donations and the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.

There was a lot to unpack with this book and the discussion was lively and lengthy. The plot revolves around 16-year-old Starr Carter who witnesses a police-involved fatal shooting of her friend and the subsequent impact on her, her family and her community.

While the book dealt with many difficult issues, everyone in the group gave it positive reviews for how the subjects were handled. Themes include stereotyping and racism, activism, bravery, family and community. The characters make historic references to Emmett Till, The Black Panthers, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Tupac Shakur (title reference/Thug Life), Dr. Martin Luther King and mention very recent victims of police brutality.

One reader said that her church discussion group found the language in the book offensive. The Books on Tap group felt that the book would not seem authentic if the author had cleaned up all the language. Who is the book meant to appeal to? Teens.

The group also discussed the extent of code-switching that Starr and many THUG characters go through in order to fit in. Many of us also do the same, but to a generally lesser degree and the group discussed a few personal examples.

We briefly discussed the importance of reading diverse books to get exposure to other people’s worlds and build understanding and a sense of community. The characters and the issues in THUG are deftly portrayed to make the book appealing, not defensive.

Awards:
National Book Award Longlist
Michael L. Printz Honor Book
Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominee (Mystery Writers of America)
Coretta Scott King Honor (Author)
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award
William C. Morris Award

Other books mentioned:
Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

More information:
Upcoming movie (release date 10/19)
Controversy around THUG as required reading

Reviews:
The Atlantic
Huffington Post

At the November 1 meeting, the group will choose titles to discuss January-May 2019.

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“I was born with the devil in me . . . I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.”

devilBooks on Tap read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson at Champion Brewery on September 6.  Instead of usual novels, this title was a work of narrative nonfiction. It follows the men who established the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, those who planned and built it, and the male serial killer who took advantage of the influx of young women into the city.

What we most responded to was the rivalry Chicago felt with both Paris, the site of the previous fair, and New York, who competed to host the 1983 iteration. Larson shows both the civic cooperation and dysfunction that launched the fair, reminding us that the Windy City nickname is a result of its politicians as much as its weather. We also discussed the contrast between the White City of the fair and the Black City of open sewers and dark alleys. It was both the allure of the fair and the chaos of parts of the city that allowed serial killer H.H. Holmes to prey on the young woman who flooded the city looking for independence and work. While more workers at the fair died than Holmes probably killed, the state of police work and the undervaluing of the victims allowed Holmes to go undetected until he kidnapped three children.

All of our readers liked at least some parts of the story, especially tidbits about products introduced at the fair like the Ferris wheel, Cracker Jack and chewing gum. However, some readers thought that the book could have been more satisfying and faster-paced with fewer minor storylines. Larson, a former journalist, is a formidable researcher but not every detail was necessary to the story. He does pull the reader along by hanging the narrative on a few familiar names such as Frederick Law Olmsted and maintains suspense around Holmes’s activities, even though the reader already knows the broad outlines of the story. Ultimately, Larson’s research enabled us to trust him as a reliable reporter as he spun out this at times unbelievable tale.

More Information:
About the author
Interviews with the author
About the book
Upcoming movie
Images from the 1893 World’s Fair
The most recent World’s Fair in Kazakhstan in 2017

Related Recommendations:
Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King
The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan
The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews
David McCullough, especially The Great Bridge
Nathan Philbrick, especially Sea of Glory

Books on Tap Information:

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“The indiscriminate reading of novels is one of the most injurious habits to which a married woman can be subject.”

dept of speculation coverBooks on Tap read Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill at Champion Brewery on August 2. The novel, short on plot but long on introspection, follows a writer who hopes to be an “art monster” as she marries, has a daughter, teaches writing in college and negotiates her marriage after her husband’s infidelity. Told in short bursts, it has been likened to an x-ray, drawing on the author’s experimentation with poetry during a bout of writer’s block. It starts in close first person, switches to third person after the cheating is discovered and then back to first as the husband and wife reconcile.

We all liked this witty rumination on growing older, knowing oneself and making compromises. Two of us listened to the audiobook and missed all the formatting (and thought we had missed entire chapters!). We didn’t think that the characters were particularly sympathetic but the narrator’s emotions resonated. Her desire not to lose her identity and drive after childbirth and her questioning of priorities accurately reflects life in middle age. However, the point of view is so narrow, it only serves to confirm that you can never truly know what happens in another couple’s relationship. The book contains all aspects of a full life: family, career, loneliness, romance, anger. Its format also mirrors how we communicate now, inward-turning short bursts with (inaccurate?) quotations of famous people. While the ending wasn’t particularly happy, it was happier and happy enough.

More Information:
About the author
Interviews with the author
About the book

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