Now That’s Chutzpah 

A black and white portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wearing her dissent color and sporting a golden crown.

Truly walking a mile in another person’s shoes is rarely possible, but when you want to take a stroll, biography and memoir are right here inside the doors of everyone’s favorite library. Aspiring to understand the Jewish experience, readers can check out materials with unique perspectives on Jewish heritage. Consider exploring the lives of three Jews raised in Brooklyn, New York. 

In June 2013, Ruth Bader Ginsburg seized the rare opportunity to read a dissent from the bench of the Supreme Court. Wearing her “dissent collar,” she stated that the court’s majority opinion was a “demolition” of the Voting Rights Act. A slight 80-year-old woman with a soft voice, Justice Ginsburg was already legendary for her groundbreaking work on gender equality as well as her rigorous workout regimen, but her words were her superpower. She may have been the physical opposite of the deceased rapper Notorious B.I.G., but they both used language to pack a punch, and so the Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr (a multimedia blog site) was born. Fact-checked by RBG herself, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, presents one of the most fun and inspiring biographies available. Packed with tribute art, photographs of folks in RBG costumes, judicial wisdom, and primary sources, tweens and adults alike can embrace this book. There is also a young readers’ edition

Speaking of art, who does not love Where the Wild Things Are and New Yorker cartoons? Wild Visionary: Maurice Sendak in Queer Jewish Context, by Golan Y. Moskowitz, makes an in-depth journey into Sendak’s legacy. His upbringing and life as a Jewish gay man informed the futuristic outlook he brought to his books. Because they lost so much family in the Holocaust, Sendak’s parents were overly protective, and home felt as if it were filled with “dead Jews.” Considered a literary and artistic disrupter, Sendak believed that books were a way for children to safely explore their natural fears. Throughout his life, Sendak used his art to confront injustice, challenge prejudice, and engage readers in the gravity of children’s emotional lives. 

Against a backdrop of a black and puple diamond pattern, an illustration shows three people sitting on an sofa. Two elderly people next to a younger person. The text bubble reads, "Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT?"

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant is New Yorker magazine cartoonist Roz Chast’s graphic memoir. The art is poignant and funny, provocative and familiar. Doesn’t every family have at least one closet so deep that we never know what was really in it until the person dies and the time comes to clean out its contents? Chast mines the contents of her life, including drawings, possessions, photos, letters, and family anecdotes to create an unforgettable portrait of her upbringing and a piercing view of death. Her relationship with her parents was fraught, making this an uncomfortable read at times. Chast’s dark humor in addressing challenging end-of-life issues resonated deeply with me. Her parents lived into their 90s, and she draws and writes about falls, elder law, dementia, nursing aides, financial fears, incontinence, bed sores, hospice. Filled with universal family truths, the book is one I’ve read and reread, rare for me. It’s a head-on confrontation with the circle of life. 

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

A Ballad of Booth 

Against a deep indigo cover, naturalist sketches of teal flowers and orange swallows intertwine with the big block letters of the title. A yellow snake appears in the H.

by Cherise T.

Notorious. Home to many historical figures, Baltimore lays claim to one of the most reviled, John Wilkes Booth. Legendary. The pinnacle of theatrical performance, Shakespearean acting claims Junius, John’s father, and Edwin, John’s brother, as two of its finest. Radical. One of the highest acts of rebellion, the Underground Railroad claims Richard Booth, John’s grandfather, as one of its aides.  

Booth, by Karen Joy Fowler, explores these, and many other, aspects of an infamous family. The bestselling author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Fowler has written another dysfunctional family novel. Booth will engage readers interested in local Maryland history, the Lincoln assassination, and disturbing tales of family legacy.  

Enraged by the gun violence epidemic, yet not wanting to glorify an assassin, Fowler began researching the Booth family. With the goal of placing John Wilkes Booth in a broader sociological context, Fowler presents a detailed portrait of Booth’s first-degree relatives as well as his ancestry. I marveled at how the Booth family was at once isolated from and central to the politics surrounding the Civil War. We discover the abolitionist leanings of the majority of the Booth family and gain a limited glimpse into John’s radicalization. I learned a lot but was also left wanting to know more about John’s motivations and the repercussions for his family after the assassination. 

Fowler documents the timeline of Abraham Lincoln’s life alongside the lives of the Booths. We see the violent partisanship that has always been woven into the fabric of US history. At times I wondered why this book had not been written as narrative nonfiction instead. Similar to a solid history text, Booth documents significant quotes, historical events, and primary sources. We learn that Junius Booth frequented the Green Dragon Tavern, a Boston bar where you can still grab a drink. Fowler describes the construction of Tudor Hall, the Bel Air home of the Booths that remains open for tours.  

At the heart of the novel are the stage actors in the family, Junius, Edwin, John, and Junius, Jr. Both Junius and Edwin were internationally renowned for their stagecraft and self-destructive alcoholism. One of the joys of the novel is found in figuring out the sources of Shakespeare quotes the family members use as part of their daily communications. They are a theater family at their core. John was the ninth of ten children, four of whom died before reaching adulthood. Fowler traces these deaths to the lasting impact on the fates of family members. She depicts John as the light of his mother’s life, the golden child born to help ease the family’s pain. 

The novel is well researched, beautifully written, and provides a unique perspective on the Civil War in the context of one family’s experience. The reader connects with the men and the women in the family, as well as their associates, friends, and love interests. Booth would be an excellent choice for a book group discussion.  

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

For the Love of Irish Poets

A road sign between two doors, with full post of signs in English and Gaelic.

by Cherise T.

Where tales be told, words be woven, and music be made, an Irish poet can be found. Indulge in the glorious Irish literary tradition by exploring the riches of Boland, Heaney, and Yeats. One of Ireland’s, and the English language’s, most famous poets, William Butler Yeats won the Nobel Prize in 1923 for his works such as “The Second Coming,” where the phrase “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” was born. His poems embrace the mythological, the historical, and the political while adhering to traditional verse structures. An excellent starting point for those new to Irish poetry is the anthology, The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats.

Poet Seamus Heaney sitting in front of full bookshelves, looking over the back o

Scaffolding by Seamus Heaney

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tight bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seems to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me,

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

Written in 1966 around the time of Heaney’s marriage, ”Scaffolding” is a unique expression of love and devotion. Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1995, and while his writing also leans toward history, much of the content is personal. Feast on the rich, precise language in his compilation, 100 Poems. The collection includes an excerpt from “The Cure at Troy” where this renowned stanza is found:

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

Eavan Boland, the most contemporary of the three, subverts tradition, exploring women’s daily lives in the context of feminism and Irish history. In A Woman Without a Country, Boland addresses a range of women, from Eurydice to her own daughter. In the eponymous poem sequence, she writes about her grandmother, “What troubled me was not whether she had included her country in her short life. But whether that country had included her.”

Our online collection includes the Gale LitFinder resource. At, go to the Research tab and select the Literary Criticism & Analysis section. In LitFinder, use the search term “Irish poetry” or enter an author name, subject, or document type (such as “sonnet”) to explore additional classical through contemporary works by Irish poets.

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

Dolly Parton stands with her guitar. She's wearing blue jeans, a tied red plaid shirt, and a black wide brimmed hat. Run Rose Run appears to her left, with a flower in the center of the word rose.

by Cherise T.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest country singers of all time, Dolly Parton is now a novelist as well. Her coauthor is none other than James Patterson, one of the best-selling authors of all time. How could I not take a chance on their thriller, Run, Rose, Run, the story of a bound-for-stardom young country singer with a dark past? 

I’ll let you in on a not-so secret. Despite my snobbish reading tendencies, I’m a sucker for books by my favorite authors, even if their newest book is not well received. I don’t read reviews or book cover blurbs. With my eyes unfocused, I scan a book’s description or skim the closing sentence of a book review, but beyond that, I don’t want to know. I prefer to judge for myself whether a book is a “family saga” or an “exploration of self-discovery,” or a “dystopian post-apocalyptic journey.” I’ll judge for myself whether the protagonist is “unforgettable,” the writing “electric,” and the plot “timeless.” Another secret: if the writer is someone I admire or whose work intrigues me, I’ll read the book even while I know I may be critical of potentially weak prose or stereotyped characters. 

Biases intact, I started reading Run, Rose, Run. Three chapters later, I considered all the other books in my pile and moved on. Recently, a customer asked for the book, and I happened to notice that the audiobook included Dolly Parton and a full cast of readers. Being a sucker for an over-produced audiobook and a Dolly devotee, I gave the book a second chance. Fellow readers, the audiobook is great and not over-the-top at all, and the plot is a page turner, even as I toggled back and forth to the print version. Parton has a significant role in the audiobook as she performs the part of the seasoned world-famous country singer, Ruthanna Ryder, who has taken fledgling AnnieLee Keyes under her tutelage. 

For those wondering if they should read this book, please consider the engaging aspects of the story. There are attractive love interests. The thugs are brawny and scary. The protagonists have mysterious backstories. The descriptions of the music business feel like the reader is gossiping with their close friend, Dolly. The pages are packed with country music references and lyrics penned by Parton just for this book. And for Dolly Parton fans? Parton has explained that there are autobiographical elements in the aspects of the plot related to breaking into the entertainment industry. Beyond that, however, I enjoyed imagining how many of the descriptions of makeup, shoes, performances, grievances, cooking, martinis, songwriting, and home décor were glimpses into Dolly Parton’s life.  

Run, Rose, Run. It’s a suspenseful book. It’s a compelling audio performance. It’s an entertaining 12-track bluegrass album (don’t miss “Big Dreams and Faded Jeans” and “Snakes in the Grass”). Reese Witherspoon’s production company has plans to create a film based on the novel. Need I say more?

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

Here She Comes Again 

I Was Better Last Night 

A black and white photo of Harvey Fierstein from below, as he looks down into the camera whild having his hands against one side of his face.

by Cherise T.

Harvey Fierstein, I beg to differ with your memoir title, I Was Better Last Night. Although I’ve never had the privilege of experiencing one of your shows two nights in a row, every time I have seen you, the performance has been remarkably bodacious and sincere, distinctive and familiar. You immerse the audience in worlds we’ve never seen before, drawing us in even deeper with elements resonating from our own lives. How could you have been even better? 

I Was Better Last Night opens a treasure trove of stories for theater lovers. Did you know that Disney thought Newsies could never be a hit musical? That the original producers of 1983’s La Cage aux Folles vehemently nixed the gay couple’s kiss? That beloved actress Estelle Getty of The Golden Girls first found fame at age 59 in Torch Song Trilogy, starring in a role written just for her? Brimming with mostly loving, but occasionally scathing, Broadway backstage tales, Fierstein’s memoir exposes the details of show creation. We learn his insights into what worked and what didn’t and how the cast and creative crew contribute to the final product. We hear juicy tales of relationships gained and broken, Tonys won and lost, musicals with multiple revivals and singular flops. 

As an actor, playwright, screenwriter, and proudly out gay icon, Fierstein has a lifetime of stories to tell, and the book truly spans his whole life. The memoir maintains a captivating balance between the personal and the professional. Some of the most poignant chapters in the book explore his evolving sexual identity and the context in which he places his own growth as a queer man within the current social environment. He spares few details when writing about New York City’s bathhouses and the HIV/AIDs epidemic. 

Fierstein has won many awards and garnered extensive fame for his contributions to Mrs. Doubtfire, Hairspray, Fiddler on the Roof, La Cage Aux Folles, and Torch Song Trilogy, to name a few. It’s fascinating to learn how he credits his becoming a successful performer and writer to character, lucky timing, supportive mentors, and determination. In another life, he would now be a retired public school art teacher. 

The book is available in print and electronic formats. Consider the audiobook version, if you enjoy Fierstein’s distinctive gravel-filled Brooklyn accent as much as I do. Describing the creation of the musical Kinky Boots, for example, he does a spot-on impersonation of Cyndi Lauper, the first solo woman to win a Tony for best original musical score. Offering lyrics he’s sung and lines he’s written, Fierstein is a compelling author-narrator, adding an additional layer of insight into his creative life. His self-deprecating sense of humor really shines. For the wonderful photographs, check out the print version as well. 

And the title? Yes, Fierstein seems to have the ego we associate with stars. There’s no doubt he believes in himself and the strength of his work, but like the final principle of Lola’s six–step program in Kinky Boots, “You change the world when you change your mind.” He describes times he could have done better, admits missteps, and encourages everyone to open their minds and hearts. 

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

Eating in Season

The picture depicts four recipes: bread, a dish with green vegetables and red cabbage. another dish with sliced beef, carrots, and potatoes, and a fourth dish with red grapes and sprigs of herbs on a white pie with a slice cut out of it.

by Cherise T.

End of summer blues? Turn to the colorful fruits and vegetables of autumn for a mood lift. Filled with nutrients, seasonal produce offers a culinary treat.

The Complete Autumn and Winter Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen includes side dishes, main courses, and desserts filled with the flavors of fall. An entire chapter is devoted to pumpkin, a low-calorie, vitamin-dense treat. The antioxidant beta-carotene in pumpkin lends it that beautiful orange color and blocks the free radicals that cause cells to age. The body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A which is essential for healthy eyes, skin, and bones. Try the slow-cooker creamy pumpkin-chai soup for a treat on a chilly day.

The picture shows a woman in a blue denim shirt holding a cleaver with her arms crossed, as she looks down at a wooden kitchen counter full of vegetables, including radishes, carrots, leeks, greens, potatoes, and onions.

Winter squash, another rich source of beta-carotene, can be fun to prepare with the guidance of Cara Mangini’s The Vegetable Butcher. Squash is low in carbohydrates, for those monitoring sugar intake, and high in potassium, for those following a heart-healthy diet. Recipes include kale and spelt berry salad. Lutein gives kale its dark green color and helps protect the eye from developing cataracts and macular degeneration. Cranberries are high in vitamin C, which strengthens the immune system and helps shorten the duration of cold symptoms.

The cover shows a man with a walking stick, dressed in a gray cap and black cape, roasting vegetables over an outdoor fire while others hang on a circular wire frame behind him.

As temperatures drop, the grill is a wonderful way to prepare vegetables. In Green Fire: Extraordinary Ways to Grill Fruits and Vegetables from the Master of Live-Fire Cooking, Francis Mallman shares his unique Patagonian recipes. Prepare his salt-baked beets for a dish rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Diets high in fiber have been associated with fewer digestive issues and lower colon cancer risk. Betalains, responsible for the purple-red color of beets, reduce inflammation and cell damage. Beets are also high in folate (vitamin B9), which has been linked to lowered risk of heart disease and stroke.

The cover depicts a cake or tart of two layers, on a white cake stand and covered with raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. A pie server sits next to it on a wooden table, and in the background are a pint container of additional berries and a blue glazed ceramic picture filled with greens and pink rose blossoms.

In Naturally Sweet Baking: Healthier Recipes for a Guilt-Free Treat, recipes include fall fruits such as pears as alternative sweeteners. High in fiber, pears have some sugar but do not have the high glycemic index that contributes to diabetes risk. The vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants in pears add to their health benefits. Authors Carolin Strothe and Sebastian Keitel include a seasonal calendar as part of their guidance in baking without artificial coloring or processed sugar. Explore the baking collection at Elkridge’s DIY Education Center to find specialty cake pans available for checkout.

The Howard County Farmers Market continues on Wednesdays from 2 – 6 pm in the Miller Branch parking area.

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.

In Conversation: Pierre Jean Gonzalez

The photograph depicts actor Pierre Jean Gonzalez in his starring role as Alexander Hamilton, wearing a white shirt, pants, vest, and cravat, with a brown overcoat with gold buttons. His head is turned to the side and he is gazing into the distance.
Photo credit: @ Joan Marcus

By Cherise T.

Fans of Hamilton know the impressive acting, singing, and dancing skills required to bring to life the musical’s complex characters. Hamilton showcases multiple musical genres, innovative choreography, and insightful portrayals of historical figures responsible for the founding of the United States. We are excited to share highlights from our conversation with one of the show’s remarkable stars whose work impacts the artistic content we will see in the future.

The photograph is of Hamilton star Pierre Jean Gonzalez, wearing a black shirt and facing the camera.
Photo credit: @ Ambe J. Photography

Growing up in the Bronx, Pierre Jean Gonzalez never saw himself represented in the television shows he watched. Today, he is starring in the national touring company of Hamilton, and is the co-founder of DominiRican Productions, whose “mission is to see People of Color on both sides of the camera.” The creation of the production company was part of his “pandemic journey” to “address issues of representation.” He feels grateful that “because of Hamilton, I’m able to use my status to help others.” 

What’s it like playing Alexander Hamilton? “Challenging” and “amazing.”

Is BIPOC casting in musical theater important and why? To summarize, it has changed Pierre’s life as well as the lives of other creative people and audience members.

How are opportunities for underrepresented and marginalized communities created? Case study: DominiRican Productions.

We examined these issues and took audience questions at our September 20 event at HCLS Central Branch. The evening featured a screening of DominiRican’s award-winning experimental short, release, directed by Pierre, featuring a poem and performance by Cedric Lieba Jr., the cofounder of DominiRican Productions, and Pierre’s fiancé. Explore their inspirational projects at

The photograph depicts Pierre Jean Gonzalez looking at books from the HCLS Central Branch equity collection with instructor and research specialist Ash Baker.
Instructor and Research Specialist Ash B. highlights the HCLS Central Branch Equity Resource Collection for Pierre Jean Gonzalez.

The focus of Pierre’s biography surrounds his advocacy for Latinx and LGBTQ+ opportunities on stage, on screen, and behind the camera. He and Cedric used the pandemic’s constraint on their acting careers as a chance to construct a unique artistic venture highlighting original voices and fresh talent to viewers. Inspired in part by the musical heritage, humanity, and diverse casting of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work in Hamilton, Pierre builds and supports projects that might otherwise never be produced. His dedication to inclusion and community is clear, and we were all motivated by his empowering message of kindness and empathy in art. Pierre shared his personal coming out story as well as guidance for all of us to live our truth, share our stories, and lift up those around us.

Pierre Jean Gonzalez is on the stage at HCLS Central Branch, speaking into a microphone in front of an audience.
Pierre Jean Gonzalez in conversation with Cherise Tasker, Instructor and Research Specialist, at HCLS Central Branch.

Howard County Library System was excited to host this talk with Hamilton star Pierre Jean Gonzalez. Although registration for this event filled almost immediately, please watch our Classes & Events page for daily updates on future presentations and interactive sessions:

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.

The ERC Belongs to You and Me

by Cherise T.

On your next journey to the Central Branch, promise you will climb to the top floor and venture beyond the computers to the Equity Resource Center, established in 2021. The ERC is a place for community events and a treasure trove of classic and cutting-edge books, audiobooks, movies, television series, and music. A collection of materials you’ve always wanted to read, watch, and discuss. 

Book shelves at the Equity Resource Center, with art to borrow resting on top. Photo also shows swirled-patterned carpet and wood.

Recently, I had the opportunity to shift the positioning of ERC materials. I was up to my elbows and down on my knees handling the books, CDs, and DVDs. This is a librarian’s paradise, being among new copies of books I’ve read and can barely wait to read. I wanted to open almost every book and peruse the first pages. This was a physical task, however; the goal was moving and organizing, not intellectualizing. Just as when I’m shelving materials or directing a customer to a topic area, my job at that moment is not to indulge my interests but to engage others’ curiosity. It’s rough, though, staying focused in the ERC when I’m surrounded by all the intriguing titles, many that have been past favorites, shelves of those that I’ve heard others rave about, and new publications that I’m excited to discover. 

Honestly, I’m continually surprised by the ERC. The diversity of voices and perspectives in the works seems impossible. While the classic titles attest to the reality that marginalized communities with strong voices have always existed, the scope and depth of contemporary publications feels like hope. Publishers are expanding their willingness to broadcast unique perspectives, and exploring these materials in one place collapses time, as if we have always been privileged to share in each other’s experiences and dreams. 

Undesign the Redline

The ERC fills me with gratitude. I am thankful to be alive at a time when I can work and live in a place where the library system offers such wonders to all who choose to enter the doors. I am thankful when I realize how many of the DVDs are multi-award-winning, popular films and that so many of the books are past and current best sellers. These works offer engagement, information, and entertainment to those whose experiences are worlds apart from the authors’. They provide a shared experience for those who want to feel they are not alone. The creators of these artistic riches are of different races and classes. They come from many countries, practice a spectrum of religions, view the world from differently-abled perspectives, and live with distinctive gender identity and sexual orientation. The materials challenge stereotypes, open our minds, provoke strong opinions. 

Visual characteristics that are plain for all to see do not define who we are or how we should be treated. We wouldn’t want to, nor should we have to, wear signs identifying the people we are or are not. No person or artist owes us their story. Nevertheless, history and narrative have been abundantly gifted to us in the ERC, presenting opportunities to read, watch, listen, and learn. The fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose, exist to be soaked up, broaden world views, and spread inclusive perspectives. 

Times may seem grim with two steps back for every one step forward. Sometimes I despair for the health of our children, our planet, and our marginalized communities. The ERC, though, attests to the fact that despite the pain in the world, forward strides have been accomplished. The sanctuary of the ERC may be in the back of the top floor of the Central Branch, but it is not distant. It is accessible and evolving as we speak.  

Welcome to the library, the community gathering place you know, and the oasis of ideas and opportunities beyond what you’ve imagined. 

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

The Solidarity Dividend

The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee: A cover full of color blocks resolves as a diving board into swimming pool with a white boy jumping off the end and a black girl climbing the ladder.

“I’m a white male, and I am prejudiced.” In August 2016 on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, public policy expert Heather McGhee, answered the challenge presented by Garry, a caller from North Carolina. He asked, ”What can I do to change, you know, to be a better American?” The video went viral due to McGhee’s reasoned, compassionate response. Thanking the caller for being honest while acknowledging we all have prejudices, McGhee proceeded to offer advice including, “In order to be a demos that is united across lines of race and class and gender and age, we have to foster relationships. We have to get to know who one another actually is.” When McGhee’s book, The Sum of Us, was published, I was curious to learn more from her. After reading it, I especially appreciate McGhee’s insight into how the mentality of “us and them” was built and how we can break it down. 

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together describes how all ethnic and class groups suffer when racism influences government policy. McGhee researched the roots of economic disparity in the United States and explored causes and solutions from a perspective of unity rather than division. She argues that many problems with wage distribution, education, health care, housing, and environmental policy arise from the concept of a zero-sum game. When citizens perceive one racial group’s gain as another group’s loss, we cannot work for a common good. She documents how everyone loses out when racial hierarchy guides legislation. When public pools are filled with cement to circumvent enforcement of desegregation legislation, all the kids whose parents can’t afford private pools can’t go swimming. Using the concept of the public pool as a central metaphor, McGhee deconstructs how the US reached today’s level of political division and how American society can move forward, allowing all races, ethnicities, and classes to thrive. 

Of course, the idea of “what helps you, hurts me,“ goes beyond kids not being able to cool down in a pool in the summertime. The Sum of Us carefully traces trade union busting, healthcare access gaps, rising costs of public colleges, and the sub-prime mortgage crisis back to racial profiling. The resulting wage stagnation, benefit cuts, student debt, and foreclosures affected all racial groups.  

McGhee’s empathy raises The Sum of Us to a higher level than some other books I’ve read on similar topics. For example, as a self-proclaimed data nerd, she clearly explains the economics of the 2007-2010 financial crisis but then goes beyond the numbers to show, “what was risky wasn’t the borrower; it was the loan.” I gained understanding not only of the economics of the crisis, but the societal toll. Although predatory loan practices were initially targeted at low-income Blacks, later, the loans were pitched to everyone, regardless of their credit status. Many borrowers were eligible for prime mortgages but were manipulated to accept sub-prime mortgages because of the financial bonanza for the lender. McGhee presents this as yet another situation where racism eventually hurt everyone. 

McGhee has coined the phrase “Solidarity Dividend” for the benefits arising from communities collaborating across the racial divide. From minimum wage increases to investment in affordable housing development to improvement in air and water quality, the Solidarity Dividend boosts the economy while enhancing quality of life. “Getting white support to address those different levels of need, and to acknowledge the racism that caused these differences, is never easy – particularly when the zero-sum mental model turns every concession into a threat of loss,” McGhee writes. The Sum of Us demands to be read both for the well-researched documentation of the past and the message for our future.  

By the way, Heather and Garry, a disabled Navy veteran, built a friendship. Garry continues to work on understanding racism and realigning his own thinking. 

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

Film Femme Phenoms

An Oscar award statuette.

by Cherise T.

The Oscars. The Super Bowl for film lovers and stargazers. Since the 94th Academy Awards and Women’s History Month converge this year, let’s highlight Oscar-winning women. The accomplishments of women in the film industry grow each year as crews’ diversity increases and acting roles encompass a broadened range of realistic characters.

Front and center for many a bibliophile is screenwriting. In 2021 with Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell (also known as Camilla in The Crown) became the first woman in 13 years to win for Best Original Screenplay. Fennell also produced and directed. Then travel back to 2007 when Diablo Cody won for Juno. To date, nine women have won in this category, but only five as solo writers; the other three being Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation; Jane Campion, The Piano; and Callie Khouri, Thelma & Louise.

For Best Director, 2021 also brought an Oscar to a woman, Chloé Zhao, for Nomadland (also a book). Only one other woman has won in this category, Kathryn Bigelow, for The Hurt Locker. Only seven women in total have even been nominated.

Best Costume Design boasts many female winners. Edith Head was nominated 35 times and won eight. For total Oscar nominations and victories, she is surpassed only by Walt Disney. Her winning films are The Heiress, Samson and Delilah, All About Eve, A Place in the Sun, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Facts of Life (not available), and The Sting. For more recent winners in 2018 and 2019, check out the work of Ruth E. Carter in Black Panther and Jacqueline Durran in Little Women.

Best Supporting Actress has been won more than once by only two women: Dianne Wiest for Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets over Broadway (not available) and Shelley Winters for The Diary of Anne Frank and A Patch of Blue (available through interlibrary loan). Last year’s winner was the first for a Korean actress, Youn Yuh-jung, in Minari.

Now for the star power that is Best Actress. Katherine Hepburn was nominated 12 times and won a record-setting four: Morning Glory (available through interlibrary loan), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Lion in Winter, and On Golden Pond. Meryl Streep has been nominated a record-setting 17 times for Best Actress, winning twice for Sophie’s Choice (available with an HCLS library card on Kanopy) and The Iron Lady, and nominated four times for Best Supporting Actress, winning for Kramer vs. Kramer. Frances McDormand became a triple champion in 2021 for Nomadland. She also won for Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

If you’re a fan of the Academy Awards, enjoy, and be sure to check out these and other noteworthy Oscar winners in the HCLS catalog.

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.