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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

6 Feb

warmth of other suns

The Great Migration, the time between 1915 and 1970 when over six million African Americans moved out of the Jim Crow South to dozens of large cities across the country, was one of the biggest demographic shifts in American history. Cities like New York, Baltimore, Detroit, and Los Angeles would develop thriving black neighborhoods that continue to shape the culture and politics of the United States. From Harlem to Watts, these newly changing neighborhoods would experience an explosion in art and culture during the Great Migration, with African Americans from the South bringing their musical, artistic, religious, culinary, and folk traditions with them.

My neighborhood, the Central Ward in Newark, was a major point of settlement for African American migrants and the city would shift from a majority European immigrant population to a majority black population over the course of just a few decades. Local legend always held that the reason Newark became a hub for these arrivals from the South was that people would mishear train conductors calling for “Newark Penn Station” with “New York Penn Station” and get off at the wrong stop. Whether this piece of lore is true or not, I was curious to learn more about how the Great Migration affected my city and so many others across the country. I could not have picked a book more epic in scale than The Warmth of Other Suns to explore this topic.

Wilkerson alternates between the narratives of three different migrants, each of whom settles in a different part of the United States during a different phase of the Great Migration. Their stories all start in the segregated South and their reasons for migrating North were common to millions of others. Fleeing racist violence, leaving behind the abusive sharecropping system that replicated some of the conditions of slavery, and desiring to live in a place where one could have a more liberated existence were all reasons why millions left for northern and western cities. Similar to the immigrant experience, many African Americans were eager to travel thousands of miles to what they hoped would be a better life.

Following Wilkerson’s three migrants is exhilarating and the reader experiences the ups and downs of the journey with each character. Crowded cities with public transportation and industrial jobs would have been foreign experiences to those leaving small, segregated towns in the rural South, but despite the sense of community northern cities provided to African Americans, the Great Migration is not a simple story of upward mobility. While less systematized than the South, racism was still prominent in northern cities. Many migrants were forced into poor quality housing in segregated neighborhoods and worked dangerous industrial jobs for poverty level wages. Some felt that they had simply traded rural poverty for urban poverty. By the end of the 1960’s Newark, Harlem, Watts, and many other northern cities would experience urban great unrest caused by these conditions.

Wilkerson’s book still has many uplifting moments. Lots of African American migrants did experience newfound freedoms and success. Robert Foster, one of the three figures whose narratives Wilkerson highlights, left Louisiana to pursue a medical career. He became one of California’s most respected surgeons and the personal physician to Ray Charles. History is never black and white and The Warmth of Other Suns treats this epic story with the depth and nuance that it requires.

We are celebrating African-American History Month this February at the Hoboken Library and hope you can join us!  You can see all the great events on our calendar page including Black Comedy: No Tears, Just Politics on February 19 at 6 pm and  Thinking In Full Color Empowering Women of Color Through Education & The Arts on February 21 at 7 PM.  All the Maker Mondays in February will have special activities for kids so they can learn about important African American Inventors.

Written by:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

Our Best of 2018: Book and Video Game Recommendations from the Past Year!

2 Jan

In celebration of the New Year we decided to look back at a few of the library staff’s favorites you can check out from Hoboken and other BCCLS libraries!  I’ve linked to the print editions, but Hoboken Library Patrons can check out many of the books as ebooks and digital audiobooks from eLibraryNJ, Hoopla, or eBCCLS.

Favorite Fiction: Lost Empress by Sergio de la Pava and
Social Creature
by Tara Isabella Burton
social creature
I read a lot of good books in 2018. My favorite was Lost Empress by Sergio de la Pava. I wrote about it for the blog earlier this year. I loved this book for the intricate plot, the stunning prose and dialog, and the way it made me laugh out loud.

Another book I greatly enjoyed was Tara Isabella Burton’s Social Creature, about a toxic friendship between Lavinia, a well-off New York party girl,  and Louise, who dreams of living Lavinia’s lifestyle, but barely manages to live hand to mouth as she pursues her dream of becoming a writer in New York. I loved the decadence, the homage to social media, the upscale product placement (Cristal! Agata and Valentina!), not to mention the sex and the drugs. Some of the craziness stretched credibility, but Social Creature is definitely not easily put down.

Written by:
Victoria Turk
Reference Librarian

Favorite Nonfiction: American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment
by Shane Bauer
American Prison
In 2014, Shane Bauer spent four months working undercover as a $9-an-hour prison guard at Louisiana’s notorious Winn Correctional Center, a private prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Bauer’s experiences at Winn will horrify most readers as he documents his experiences working in a severely understaffed private prison where guards are poorly trained and inmates live in appalling conditions. American Prison is not only an incredible piece of first-person journalism; Bauer also provides a history of private prisons, interspersing his narrative with an expose on the era of “convict leasing” in which prison labor replaced slave labor on plantations and free labor in many industries. Bauer’s history has made me reevaluate my understanding of America’s justice system more than any other book I have read.

Written By:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

Favorite Mystery: An Act of Villainy
by Ashley Weaver

My favorite mystery this year was An Act of Villainy by Ashley Weaver.  The book is part of Weaver’s Amory Ames series which I had written about in a blog about her previous novel The Essence of Malice.  I think this is my favorite in the series I’ve read so far.  The book is set in the backstage theatrical world of London in the 1930’s; Amory is asked to investigate when a leading lady (and mistress of a friend) begins receiving menacing letters.  In addition to an intriguing mystery, I thought it was interesting to see Amory react to the relationship troubles of another couple in light of some of her own marital complications.  Honorable mystery mentions go to Diane Andrew’s Toucan Keep a Secret and Rhys Bowen’s Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding.

Other books I have loved this year and previously blogged about include for science fiction: Catherynne M. Valente’s funny fanciful Space Opera which takes Eurovision Song Competition to a galactic level; best fiction would be The Last Cruise by Kate Christensen, with it slow building suspense and well written characters; and for fantasy Kill The Farm Boy by Kevin Hearne & Delilah S. Dawson which gives a refreshing new spin on the classic hero’s quest.

Written By:
Aimee Harris
Head of Reference

Favorite Video Game: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

I’m an avid gamer and have been since childhood, so I was really looking forward to the newest installation of Super Smash Bros., especially since I’m old enough to have been around and playing since the first Smash Bros. game was released in the 1990s. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which was just released on December 7, absolutely lives up to the hype of its predecessors, and since acquiring it I haven’t been able to put it down and trying to unlock a roster of 74 video game characters so I can play as whoever I want. Smash Ultimate, the fifth installment of the series, is highly recommended.

Written By:
Steph Diorio
Local History Librarian

Curious what other library patrons have been enjoying this past year? Here are the ten most frequently circulated fiction and nonfiction works of 2018 compiled by Head of Circulation Rosary Van Ingen:

Top Circulating Fiction 2018

  1. Little Fires Everywhere
  2. An American Marriage
  3. The Woman in the Window
  4. The Immortalists
  5. The Great Alone
  6. Manhattan Beach
  7. Still Me
  8. The Lying Game
  9. All We Ever Wanted
  10. The Woman in Cabin 10

Top Circulating Nonfiction 2018

1. Fear: Trump in the White House
2. The Last Black Unicorn
3. Educated: A Memoir
4. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
5. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
6. Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
7. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
8. A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership
9. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
10. Hands-On Machine Learning with Scikit-Learn and TensorFlow: Concepts, Tools, and Techniques to Build Intelligent Systems

What were some of your favorite items this year? Let us know in the comment section!

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