Archive | October, 2019

A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet A. Washington

23 Oct

A Terrible Thing to Waste
I first became interested in the work of Harriet A. Washington when my home city of Newark was hit with a lead water crisis that has frequently been compared in terms of severity to Flint, Michigan. I wondered why such environmental disasters hit the poorest communities in the United States the hardest and what the social effects of long term lead exposure would mean for the children of Newark. In A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and its Assault on the American Mind, Washington brilliantly lays out the sobering research about environmental racism and the profound effects it has on the well-being of some of the most vulnerable Americans.

“Environmental Racism” is a term used by public health researchers and sociologists to describe the disproportionate way in which black, Latino, and indigenous communities face the brunt of environmental hazards, often leading to devastating health consequences. A prominent example of environmental racism that Washington cites is the fact that almost all of the cases of lead poisoning in Baltimore were found among the city’s black children. While white residents of Baltimore were approved for cheap mortgages in the suburbs after World War II and moved into newly built homes, African Americans were redlined out of these neighborhoods and forced to stay in unsafe homes in the inner city, many of which to this day have never been fully remediated of the lead paint that continues to poison the developing brains of infants in Baltimore.

Washington bluntly describes the profound social consequences of environmental racism. Many of these toxins such as lead, untested chemicals, and waste from landfills that find their way disproportionately into minority communities cause severe cognitive damage. Washington doesn’t believe that IQ is a good predictor of intelligence, but she does believe that it can show how a person has been harmed by bad environmental policies. In contrast to those who would argue that intelligence is innate or genetic, Washington’s research shows that differences in IQ between different groups of people correlates most strongly to the type of environment they live in. Washington demonstrates how the average intelligence of groups of people can rise dramatically when they are exposed to better nutrition and cleaner environments, refuting that commonly held belief that intelligence is a static trait.

A Terrible Thing to Waste is an incredibly important book by one today’s smartest environmental researchers. I found many of my beliefs about intelligence, race, poverty, and urban planning to be constantly challenged while reading Washington’s book. I was inspired by the stories of communities who fought back against environmental racism and despite the often depressing subject matter, I felt hopeful by the end of the book that communities can work together to solve these problems.

Written by
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

A Year of Speculative Fiction: The Novels and Movies Our Science Fiction and Fantasy Group Enjoyed in 2019

16 Oct

Once a month the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group meets to discuss speculative fiction that has been suggested by participants.  We also feature beforehand a movie/TV adaptation or a film with a similar setting or theme, which is a way for people who don’t have time to read the book to still participate.

Altered Carbon
by Richard K. Morgan
Altered Carbon
We started the year with Cyber Punk Noir Mystery, Altered Carbon.  In the future the rich can live hundreds of years through the use of cortical stacks and clones; others who cannot afford clones may be transferred into other people’s bodies.  Fans of the Netflix adaptation will still find new things to enjoy in the novel which had changes made in the adaptation such as an AI hotel being based on the personality of Jimmie Hendrix in the book being changed into Edgar Allen Poe in the show. We paired the movie with the live action adaptation of the Anime classic Ghost in the Shell.

A Darker Shade of Magic
by VE Schwab
A Darker Shade of Magic
In February we read A Darker Shade of Magic which takes place in a reality where there are not one, but multiple Londons, one of which is similar to our own in the middle ages, but others contain powerful magic.  Few can cross between these alternate dimensions, but when something dangerous is brought between them it may spell disaster to all of the worlds.  We watched the first of the Fantastic Beasts movies.

The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
Hadmaid's Tale
Before the sequel came out in honor of Women’s History Month we read Margaret Atwood’s cautionary dystopian novel about the dire consequences when women’s rights are stripped away.  We watched the movie adaptation beforehand.

The Calculating Stars
by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Calculating Stars
In April the group read Mary Robinette Kowal’s first novel in her Lady Astronaut’s series which gives an alternate history where a meteor strike pushes the space exploration forward and women get to take part.  We paired the book with a screening of the thrilling modern space exploration movie Gravity, which features a strong performance by Sandra Bullock.

Mortal Engines
by Philip Reeve
Mortal Engines
For the month of May, the group read the Young Adult Steampunk novel Mortal Engines and also watched the movie adaptation.  The group felt the novel was stronger than the movie adaptation.

King of the Wyld
by Nicholas Eames
kings of the wyld
June’s pick was Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames which uses the analogy of old mercenaries being similar to aging rock stars doing one last tour. They must rescue one of their band’s daughters.  Before the book discussion we enjoyed the campy fun of the Hercules TV show.

A Memory Called Empire
by Arkady Martine
Memory Called Empire
This year’s Summer Reading theme was Space, so for July and August the group read two space operas.  July’s novel was A Memory Called Empire which revolved around a planet sized city where an emissary from a remote post must solve the mystery of what happened to her predecessor.  We paired the novel with the Joss Whedon, space western classic, Serenity, the sequel to the Firefly TV Show.

Luna: New Moon 
by Ian McDonald
Luna New Moon
Ian McDonald took the concept of a multigenerational soap opera like Dallas and placed it on a moon colony with all sorts of political scheming and romantic drama in August’s book, Luna: New Moon.  The group wanted to read the second in the series after the first book ended on a cliff hanger for our November discussion (Nov 18).  We watched Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a colorful space opera based on a French graphic novel.

Strange Practice
by Vivian Shaw
Strange Practice
I was intrigued when I learned Arkady Martine’s wife was also an author and wanted to see how their writing compared.  Vivian Shaw’s Strange Practice features a doctor who treats supernatural creatures like vampires and mummies.  The group felt that this was a very light, funny novel and was an interesting contrast to the more serious tone of A Memory Called Empire.  We also watched the very funny Hotel Transylvania.

Want to join us for some great discussions?  On Monday, October 21 we will be celebrating Halloween with Deborah Harkness’s Discovery of Witches.  The discussion starts at 6 PM.  Beforehand you can also join us for an enjoyable viewing of a family friendly animated movie treat at 4 PM.  Email hplwriters @ to be added to our mailing list.   

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Reference

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