Colson Whitehead’s novel, The Underground Railroad, is striking in both its literary style and emotionally impactful content. Whitehead is noted for mixing realism with a bit of surrealism and this, his latest novel, is no exception. Set in the antebellum South, he introduces us to Cora, a young slave woman who, along with her companions one night, relies on the light of the full moon to escape the brutality of the Georgia plantation on which she was born. With help from a clandestine network of abolitionist individuals, they travel the Underground Railroad which Whitehead depicts as a cavernous system of actual railways.
Scenes of both triumph and horror abound in this mix of historically-based fiction and subterranean fantasy. Whitehead’s sensory style of writing will keep you engaged and reflecting upon its emotional content for days after you’ve completed the book. Don’t overlook this one on your next leisure reading quest.
To learn more about the book, or put a hold on it, visit the library catalog.
George Saunders is not an author with whom I was familiar prior to reading Lincoln in the Bardo. What drew me is the title, being both a Lincoln/American Civil War enthusiast (I’ve never really liked the term “Civil War buff” though I certainly meet the criteria) and dabbler in eastern religions and spirituality. The term “bardo” refers to a state of consciousness between death and rebirth. The story focuses on the death of President Lincoln’s eleven-year-old son Willie in February, 1862 during the first term of Lincoln’s presidency and America’s escalation into its nearly year-old Civil War.
I have read, in various forums, that readers’ preferred format for this novel is the audio-book. I can easily understand this as the story features a cacophony of character voices—graveyard residents—whose souls retain a variety of personalities so diverse that it seems a shame to deny one’s ears the pleasure. Saunders creates a dialog between characters that is, in many ways, more reminiscent of a play than a novel. Truncated, rapid-fire responses mixed with monologue. The character dialog is interspersed with citations from the many, many books (of which I have read a number) written about Lincoln himself, his administration, the Todd family (Mary Lincoln’s kin) and the Civil War era. Generally speaking, my first impression of this book was not positive. The quirky writing-style was so alien to me that I felt it a bit too bizarre for my taste. In fact, I reluctantly abandoned it early on but it was my love of all things Lincoln, along with the understanding that beneath the literary quirk was a truly talented writer, that brought me back to its pages for another try and, ultimately, I am pleased that it did.
Saunders’ portrayal of Lincoln’s grief and heart-wrenching loss; his visits to the cemetery—allegedly, to exhume and caress his son’s entombed body—in the days after Willie’s death was, at times, emotionally overwhelming. It felt almost intrusive to be reading something so personal and emotionally weighted. In scenes both reviling and beautiful, the author takes you to places you ordinarily believe you would surely decline to go. Until you go. And it becomes the tragic sight from which you can’t avert your eyes. It is by no means a light, fun read. There is wonderfully creative and talented prose as well as a good dose of humor in some of his many characters but for anyone who has suffered a loss of such magnitude, an emotional ride awaits you in this book.
If you’ve been alive at any point in the last 30 years, you’ve probably played Tetris at least once. Maybe you’ve played long enough that you still see the shapes falling after you’ve stopped playing or even in your dreams (this is a documented psychological phenomenon called “the Tetris effect”). What you may not know is that the story of arguably the most ubiquitous video game ever involves all manner of tech industry wheeling and dealing, political manipulation, questions of ownership, and one Russian computer scientist who wanted to make a simple puzzle game to amuse himself and his co-workers. Writer/artist Box Brown covers it all in this graphic novel, along with a quick history of the video game industry and a rumination of what it is about gaming that drives us all, whether we know it or not. It’s a fun, informative read… you’ll probably enjoy it, and you’ll definitely want to play Tetris for an hour or six when you’re done.