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You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

14 Nov

eyeswerewatchinggod
Their Eyes Were Watching God has always been a favorite read of mine ever since college. It’s so much more than the title and I am fascinated with novels that are more than what their titles imply. Of course, the title plays a major role within the book but it’s not what resonated with me the most about the book.

There is this quote that always stood out to me even as I got deeper into the plot.

“She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she know how not to mix them” (Hurston 72).

I have always touched upon this idea of identity, self and truth in many of my other posts, and how this all overlaps in one way or another. This is because truth and what is truth and how truth and beauty can not only be subjective but also incomprehensibly unbiased deeply intrigue me. How can something beautiful to all be ugly to one, but then in the end beauty and ugly are truths that everyone feels and agrees with. Now I know this may seem confusing and complex, but stay with me. What I mean is that the meaning of beauty remains the same but what is defined as beautiful is what changes.

On this note I love noticing things that are hidden within novels that others may not see. As farfetched – far-reaching – as this may seem I feel as though the title has a lot less to do with religion and a lot to do with keeping one’s eyes one oneself. There is a part of the book where her hair is tied together – no pun intended – with the word “glory” to which to me seems biblical, spiritual, and almost godlike. Wrestling with this and how it connects with other blogs I have written, I went on a symbolic and metaphorical word journey.

How does her hair and all its “glory” relate to having an inside and an outside? It could simply mean that she has her organs and then she has her looks, or she had her soul and then her spirit, or even she had a reality and then an appearance – if we look into the literal. I think it meant that she had vulnerability and she had strength. This can tie into having a reality that you portray about yourself and an appearance that you show to the world. We all appear as someone to others and it can be a form of truth of who we are but it’s not all of it.

We all have an inside and an outside. What I find fascinating is that they can’t be mixed. Of course she has her own reasons within the book as to why she knows not to mix them, but it’s an enlightening concept that really hit me with this novel.

All this to say – as my downward spiral did not serve this book justice – this book is definitely worth a read and is much more than just college material.

Besides the book in print you can also check out from BCCLS Libraries a movie adaptation starring Halle Berry and an audiobook on CD.  Ebook and digital audiobook versions are available from eLibraryNJ, and a digital audiobook version from Hoopla.  If you are interested in learning more about the author, you can check out the documentary, Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun available to stream from Kanopy.

Written By
Sherissa Hernandez
Adult Programming Assistant

What books have you read for school that resonate with you even more now?  Share them with our readers in the comments!

Quirky Characters and Karmic Mishaps: The Comic Crime Novels of Donald E. Westlake

31 Oct

Thieves' Dozen

Last year, for the very first time, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Inspired by some books I love very dearly, I hammered out a first draft of a heist novel in sixteen days. Whilst I don’t know if I’ll have the time to do NaNoWriMo again this year now that I work full-time, I do want to share those books I adore so much with all of you!

The author of the books in question is mystery novelist Donald E. Westlake, who was incredibly prolific and wrote a number of different series and stand-alone novels, often under pseudonyms (the most notable of these being Richard Stark). You can borrow many of Westlake’s books as ebooks or digital audiobooks from Hoopla. His books vary in tone, but the genre Westlake had the best handle on was the comic crime novel, and that’s where the books I’m talking about fall. Whilst he’s probably best known for writing (as Stark) about hardened criminal Parker, his most genius works, at least in my opinion, come from a completely different take on that character. Westlake came up with a scenario involving Parker having to steal the same object multiple times, but decided it was too silly to throw Parker into and thus created a new character to take on the job instead.

Thus, in 1970, the world was introduced to John Archibald Dortmunder and his equally endearing but incompetent partners in crime, and in my opinion the literary world is a much better place for it. These are seriously some of the single funniest books I’ve ever read in my life, and I’m a noted comedy enthusiast. The premise is relatively simple: the Dortmunder novels are 14 books about the world’s unluckiest criminal mastermind, John Dortmunder, and his weird compatriots (who are really more like friends) as they attempt to steal things and generally fail miserably or have some sort of misadventures along the way. The NYC-based crew generally targets people who deserve it, so you’ll be firmly on their side, especially since they never use weapons (it’d be a heavier charge if caught, and they’re just not violent people). Dortmunder’s plans are brilliant, and they’d work just fine if he wasn’t incredibly unlucky. Usually by the end of the book things have worked out in some way or another and the crew is safe and ready to heist another day and their enemies have suffered some sort of karmic mishap (either at their hands or fate’s hands). You’ll meet all sorts of odd people in these books because they’re set in and around New York City and that’s just how things are here.

For a general idea of how these books work, in the first one, The Hot Rock, the gang is tasked with stealing a valuable emerald belonging to one country back from another. There are five attempts to steal the emerald in the 287-page book, only one of which is permanently successful, and at the end, the government stiffs the team when they return the emerald, so they steal it back and swap it with a fake. That’s basically how these books tend to go. There are fourteen full books in total, as well as a bunch of short stories, many of which are collected in an anthology called Thieves’ Dozen. I can’t recommend these books highly enough right now since they’re the sort of thing so sorely needed in these times – funny books that involve awful people often receiving their comeuppance at the hands of a bunch of competent but horribly unlucky thieves who are as quirky as they are lovable.

Hoboken and other NJ state library card holders can access biographical information, reviews, and career overviews about Westlake from Literary Reference Center. If you’re into crime novels on any level, there’s probably a Westlake book that fits your style perfectly since he wrote in so many varying styles, but the Dortmunder novels are such a delight that I have to recommend them specifically. Definitely give them a go if you need something lighter in trying times!  If you want more books featuring charismatic criminals check out this previous Staff Picks post.

If you are working on writing your own novel check out the Hoboken Public Library’s monthly writers group where you can get helpful input from other writers on your work.  This month’s meeting is Monday, November 12 at 6:30 PM.  Email hplwriters @ gmail.com for more information.

Written by
Steph Diorio
Local History Librarian
When she’s not obsessing over comedy, she’s probably watching baseball, playing video games, or serving the every whim of her 22-lb cat Murphy. An earlier version of this blog post appeared on her personal Tumblr account in August 2017.

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