The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

June 25, 2012

Lisa Brown: Busy reading schedule makes for sporadic choices

JOPLIN, Mo. — Chalk it up to my participation in the library staff’s competitive reading blog or my attempts to fill squares on the adult summer reading program’s book bingo, but lately I’ve been all over the place in my book choices. Here’s what I’ve been reading in my free time:

“All-Ghouls School” by Marc Sumerak. Popular high school sophomore Becca is suspended after a cheating scandal. Because she will miss her finals, she either must repeat her sophomore year or attend summer school at nearby Darkmoor Academy.

Becca opts for Darkmoor and discovers that the school’s faculty and students are actual monsters. She makes friends and enemies, and learns some things about herself.

This teen graphic novel is like “Mean Girls” meets “X-Men.” The archetypes, writing and colorful artwork reminded me of an old school Archie comic gone bad, but in a good way.

“Raylan” by Elmore Leonard. I usually don’t read Elmore Leonard’s fiction, but I snagged his latest work because I’m a fan of the TV show “Justified,” which features a character first introduced in a Leonard short story.

Reading “Raylan” was like revisiting the most recent season of “Justified.” It followed some of the same plots but threw in extra characters and twists. The dialogue is funny in a dry sort of way, although I was distracted by the occasional lapse into Kentucky hill-folk dialect, and there’s also a ton of violence -- both common in the TV series.

“Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy” by Albert Marrin. Many Americans today don’t know about the 1911 fire at New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory that claimed 146 lives.

As the factory burned around them, panic-stricken workers -- most of them women and young girls -- tried to escape. Some were able to make it down the narrow stairs or in the elevator, but many died in the building or plunged to their deaths on the sidewalk below.

“Flesh and Blood So Cheap” is about more than the fire. It covers immigration, because most of the factory workers were Italians and European Jews who had traveled to America in search of a better life. It also details the fight for women’s rights, as well as workers’ rights and the rise of unions.

Found in the teen collection, this book provides an excellent overview of this crucial period in American history.

“Guts” by Kristen Johnston. Johnston, perhaps best known for portraying Sally on the ’90s sitcom “Third Rock from the Sun,” shares stories about her childhood before getting to the heart of the book: how drug and alcohol addiction nearly took her life.

While she was working in London, an undiagnosed stomach ulcer suddenly burst, leaving her in excruciating pain and covered in blood and vomit on the bathroom floor of her flat. It turns out the pills she was popping and the wine she was guzzling had wrecked her stomach; her guts literally exploded.

After two months in the hospital and a drastic weight loss that had tabloids labeling her anorexic, Johnston realized the depth of her problem and went into rehab. She tells her story without an ounce of self-pity but with lots of brutal honesty and humor. I hope she keeps writing.

“This Is How” by Augusten Burroughs. Burroughs has been one of my must-read authors for some time now, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on “This is How.”

Then I realized to my horror that it was a self-help book. And not a satire of the self-help genre -- a straight up self-help book.

I had mixed reactions to “This is How” while reading it. There were moments when I rolled my eyes and moments when I had tears in my eyes.

Part of me questioned Burroughs’ authority to write such a book -- he’s done a lot of things in his life, but getting a psychology degree isn’t one of them, to my knowledge.

Yet, I appreciated how straight-forward and honest his advice was. He didn’t sugarcoat matters or drape them in traditional self-help speak.

In retrospect, “This is How” was a good book for me to read last month, with the first anniversary of the May 2011 tornado looming over everything. It made me laugh because Burroughs does slip in some snarky humor, but it also resonated with me as someone who survived the tornado and experienced painful losses over the past year. Sometimes we all could use some advice, even from the most unexpected sources.


Lisa E. Brown is the administrative assistant at the Joplin Public Library.

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