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The Book Blog

profile-icon Kayla Cook

Hello! My name is Kayla Cook and I am the new Academic Support Coordinator for Writing on SJR State’s Palatka campus. I am also an historian. My current research focuses on the life and legacy of Maureen Starkey Tigrett, who was married to former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr and, later, Isaac Tigrett, the famous classic rock memorabilia collector and founder of the House of Blues and Hard Rock Café franchises. As a result, some of the books I discuss in my posts here will be by, about, or (like this one) loosely related to some classic rocker or other, but I promise not to bore you with that all the time! 

Recently, while perusing the Internet Archive, I stumbled upon a hidden gem which wasn’t related to my research, but which sounded interesting nevertheless: a YA novel in verse by Linda Oatman High, a writing teacher and author from Pennsylvania. High’s book, A Heart Like Ringo Starr, is told from the perspective of Faith Hope Stevens, the terminally ill daughter of a funeral director—very ironic, she notes. Faith is only seventeen years old, but she has a heart condition which will likely kill her before she reaches adulthood. She finds peace and a sense of hope through her relationship with her Great Aunt Mary (“the antique fairy”), a colorful, exuberant hippie who survived the Sixties but never really left those years behind her. Having inherited her great aunt’s love of classic rock and her peace-and-love attitude, Faith wishes for “a heart like Ringo Starr,” one that will be reliable and strong and keep perfect time for her. 

This book is filled with all the bittersweet ironies of a terminal youth. Faith wants to enjoy things girls her age enjoy—like getting her nails done, traveling to Disney World with her family, visiting coffee shops, going to the prom, and playing in the snow with her little brother—but at the same time, she finds herself held back by her illness and the reminder that she will probably die before she gets to do everything she wants to do unless she gets a heart transplant. Moreover, she finds it difficult to talk about these concerns with her parents, who would rather ignore the emotional side of their daughter’s illness. In one poem, Faith wonders if she should compose a will, a suggestion which is met with some degree of criticism by her mother, who tells her she probably won’t have anything of value to leave behind when—if, she corrects herself—she dies. 

If you think this book sounds sad, you’re right. It is. I cried at a couple different points while reading it; Faith’s pain and hope feel very real, and though Publishers Weekly criticized High’s “too-tidy ending” (in other words, a happy one), I thought it was a beautiful conclusion to a novel written for teens. There is a twist, though, so I won’t spoil that for you in case you want to read it for yourself, and I hope you will. It’s a delightful book. 

If you are interested in reading Linda Oatman High’s A Heart Like Ringo Starr, you can find it free on the Internet Archive.

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profile-icon Brenda Hoffman

During research into Ann Patchett for my Dutch House Blog, I learned that The Dutch House was a Pulitzer finalist in 2020. Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys won for fiction. Based on the infamous Dozier School for Boys in Florida where a forensic archeologist from the University of South Florida and her team investigated school records and a cemetery with fewer headstones than bodies in graves, Whitehead’s Pulitzer winner is a page turner. National Public Radio aired a story about Whitehead’s historical fiction piece citing USF’s involvement, and I was intrigued, if not horrified, to learn of abuse and murder of one hundred children between the ages of six and 18. Whitehead’s description of savage teachers as punishers is sad, sad, sad. At just 224 pages, this short gem is also a mystery that will leave you jaw-dropped and re-reading the last couple of pages in disbelief. And dare I say, I enjoyed The Nickel Boys more than I enjoyed Whitehead’s other Pulitzer (yes, he won twice) winner: The Underground Railroad? The New Yorker features a Nickel Boys' sample chapter. A real treat as Whitehead narrates here.

But my favorite novel—so far—of Whitehead’s is Zone One because it satisfies the zombie lover in me. (I’m third in line on my Libby app to read his newest Harlem Shuffle). Zombie apocalypse literature, including film and television, isn’t about zombies. Ostensibly, yes, humans turn into flesh-eating hordes for no apparent reason, while survivors board up shelters and scrounge for food, but that trope wears thin. Deeper zombie literature (stop laughing!) is an allegory for society’s ills and humankind’s foibles. And Whitehead’s Zone One delivers on both those accounts. In an interview with The Guardian when One showed up on the New York Times’ list of pandemic novels for Covid quarantine, Whitehead said: “Zombies are a great rhetorical prop to talk about people and paranoia and they are a good vehicle for my misanthropy.” He’s right, of course, and Zone One was my introduction to Whitehead’s writing back in 2011. Re-reading the apocalyptic novel today encourages a meaning of isolation and loss of loved ones I hadn’t felt during the first go around. And protagonist Mark Spitz (no, not THAT Spitz from Olympic fame) reminded me to be kind, helpful, compassionate, and human to my fellow humans.

Cover ArtThe Nickel Boys (Winner 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) by Colson Whitehead
ISBN: 9780385537070
Publication Date: 2019-07-16

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profile-icon Michael Ramey

As a history buff, I am interested in exploring the origins of the detective fiction genre. Most people know of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, but Doyle’s inspiration for the character is just as fascinating: Edgar Allan Poe’s detective stories featuring C. Auguste Dupin.

Poe wrote three short stories with Dupin, who investigates crimes in Paris by using his extraordinary deduction skills. Poe’s first story featuring Dupin, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” was written in 1841 whereas Doyle’s first story with Holmes, “A Study in Scarlet,” appeared in 1887. This first story introduces many of the common tropes found in detective fiction: an unsolvable crime, unclear motive, and a surprise twist ending. The narrator of the three stories is friends with Dupin and is drawn to him in a similar way Dr. Watson is in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Poe’s second story with Dupin, “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” was based on a real unsolved murder that happened in New York City. By setting the same crime in Paris, Poe, through Dupin, deduces the profile of the real murderer. In the story they catch the murderer in an aside note, but the actual crime remains unsolved.

“The Purloined Letter” is the final story with Dupin where he outwits a minister who has stolen a letter with sensitive information to extort the queen. The Prefect of the Parisian police assumes the minister has stashed the letter somewhere in his large estate, but Dupin deduces that the minister has hidden it in plain sight in his office to throw off investigators. Dupin deceives the minister by using a distraction to replace the stolen letter with a fake.

It is interesting to see the similarities between Dupin and Holmes. Like Holmes, Dupin is not employed by law enforcement, but they seek his help with complicated cases. Both characters notice small details of a particular case and use their powers of deduction to come to conclusions overlooked by the initial investigations by police. At the end of a case, each character explains to the narrator about their logical deductions and how they arrived at their conclusions.

Reading these stories has provided an interesting look into the origins of the detective fiction genre. If you are curious about the inspiration behind Sherlock Holmes, the C. Auguste Dupin short stories are worth a look.

Cover ArtEdgar Allan Poe Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
ISBN: 9780785814535
Publication Date: 2009-11-29
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profile-icon Andrew Macfarlane---SJR State College

Good afternoon and what is up everyone? My name is Andrew, and I am going to be guest-blogging here for the next few months! I am really excited to share some of the books I have been reading with everyone, starting with a subject that I have been infatuated with for many years: grunge music.

My high school years began when grunge music broke like a wave across the United States. It was the fall of 1992. Nirvana, a band from the Pacific Northwest, was in the process of knocking Michael Jackson-the King of POP off the peak of the Billboard Music Chart-the number one position. Nirvana could be seen and heard everywhere in this time before the Internet was our source for all things entertainment. On MTV, their video “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was played relentlessly, and they destroyed their instruments on Saturday Night Live, an event seen by millions. At one point, seven of the twelve songs on their second record, “Nevermind,” were being played on the radio. They were by all standards-the biggest rock band in the USA. This was 1992.

Now thirty years later in 2022, what was once the biggest band in the United States has transitioned into legend. Their troubled but gifted lead singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994. Their drummer Dave Grohl, moving on after the tragedy began a band named Foo Fighters (RIP Taylor Hawkins). That band has now arguably become one of the best rock bands of a generation. Even still, as thirty years have passed, when you look around this campus as well as society-you will see Nirvana t-shirts. Their music and legend have endured.

It's against this introduction I would like to reveal to you my first book, Heavier Than Heaven, the biography of Kurt Cobain by Charles R. Cross.

Heavier Than Heaven is the biography of Kurt Cobain. It is written by Charles R. Cross who was the editor of a biweekly newspaper called The Rocket. The newspaper served the Pacific Northwest, and its main goal was to serve as a document of local music scene of the region-mainly Seattle. Cross began to cover Nirvana well before the band became a worldwide phenomenon. This gives him credence, as he begins the origin story of one of the biggest stars and tragic suicides of our time.

And what do we find out about Kurt Cobain? Anything new? Anything interesting beyond the music, the last of which was recorded almost 30 years ago? Yes dear reader we certainly do. If you are a little more seasoned like me, you may have some questions of what Cobain was like-this book helps you to understand him better. Or, are you a younger fan who has seen the t-shirts, heard the music, and maybe has seen or read about certain conspiracies surrounding his passing? This book can help make sense of some of those things as well. It is a truly tragic and heartbreaking story about a kid, really, a young guy who became the voice of a generation.

Cover ArtHeavier Than Heaven by Charles R. Cross
ISBN: 0786865059
Publication Date: 2001-08-15

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