I Am Not Your Negro

Review by Eric L.

The title itself should take you back to a time and parlance that we, as a country of “free” citizens, should have moved past long ago. Sadly, we have not. 

I am Not Your Negro is a great introduction to James Baldwin. Filmmaker Raoul Peck worked on the project for nearly a decade (a recent article by Peck in The Atlantic entitled James Baldwin Was Right All Along is a great primer). The film offers a potent collage of civil rights era footage, recent Black Lives Matter protests, interviews, and debates that feature Baldwin speaking (captivating), as well as the narration of excerpts from an incomplete manuscript read by actor Samuel L. Jackson, tentatively entitled Remember This House.  

The 1979 manuscript concerns Baldwin’s reluctant return to America after a long sojourn in France. The nonfiction piece, a pensive essay on racism in America, details his relationship with, and observations of, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. Baldwin refers to himself as a “witness” of these three titans of the civil rights movement, all murdered before the age of 40. Baldwin explicitly states that he’s not missing his native land; the impetus for his return seems out of a sense of guilt that America’s serious racial divide is an abstraction to him while living abroad.  

Baldwin succinctly states that “segregation equals apathy and ignorance,” as they are forces very difficult to overcome. His assessment of Americans’ sense of reality and the reasons for it should give us all something to contemplate. I love good writing, and Baldwin’s prose is beautiful. I believe this is why some have compared his essays to those of George Orwell (I encourage you to read his essays, too. I’m a huge fan). I would describe both as moral or political artists, and perhaps I appreciate their contemplative tone.

As a side note, Baldwin’s fictional  Another Country, included in PBS’s the Great American Read, made for a great discussion in my book group. The narrative deftly examines race, gender, sexual orientation, social class, power, and anger. The nonfiction title The Fire Next Time is comprised of two essays, one a letter Baldwin wrote to his nephew. I find them both beautifully written and compelling.  

Perhaps it’s a positive sign that the aforementioned materials are currently in high demand and hard to borrow, both in print and digitally, so just start by streaming the film on Kanopy. It is well worth your time! 

It some ways it seems odd that someone like me is writing this piece. If you met me you’d quickly realize that I’m close to the apex of privilege in America for a variety of reasons. I’m well aware of this fact, though I wasn’t always. I’d proffer that sometimes single words such as “privilege” become overused, politicized, and more importantly, lose their intent. This is precisely why we should all contemplate our world, and art is an engaging way to do so. 

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

The cover shows a dark background with the title and author's name in slate blue graphics. The letters look like they are dissolving into stars, with the dark background as outer space.

By Eric L.

Ted Chiang is not only a writer, he’s a computer scientist who is employed as a technical writer, as far as I know. This is Chiang’s second short story collection (a story from his previous collection, Stories of Your Life and Otherswas adapted into the movie Arrival). 

Frankly, I was rather surprised that Exhalation was selected by The New York Times Book Review as one of the best fictional books of 2019, but it’s well deserved. That said, I’d implore you to give this collection a read even you’re not into sci-fi. These stories, like all great science fiction, are only superficially about science and the future.  

Although Chiang alludes to the technical aspects of whatever he’s describing, it’s all just the backdrop. Like all the great sci-fi writers, he uses imagined technological advancements of the future as the setting to tell beautiful existential tales. His stories concern how societies employ technology and, subsequently, how it changes individuals in profound ways.

There is a story about “raising” a computer program/avatar that not only interacts in virtual reality, but also actual reality. One story concerns a rigid time travel portal; another is about the perils of a robot nanny; an interesting one is about a mechanism attached to the eye that can record every moment (you can share the footage with your friends). My favorite features a machine that gives users the ability to communicate with a version of themselves that has made different life choices. 

I hope these descriptions will not scare readers away. It seems odd to even contemplate how rapid technological advancement could not change us. Some of the stories are better than others but they’re all worth a read, and I don’t think they’re overly melancholy. Recurring themes include acceptance, free will, masculinity, and control.  

I find Chiang’s work similar to that of Philip K. Dick. Chiang even describes how one of the stories included was inspired by an old Dick short story. Although I wanted to interpret the stories myself, I couldn’t resist reading the story notes at the end of the collection.

Special thanks to my book discussion group for helping me think through some of these ideas through a conversation over the internet.

Exhalation is also available as an eaudiobook through OverDrive/Libby and CloudLibrary, and as an ebook through OverDrive/Libby

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside and people.

Consumer Reports Online

By Eric L.

Often, when I give customers an overview of Howard County Library System’s resources, people are surprised by all that we offer online. As I show them the brochure, I explain that among the other great databases and online resources, they can access Consumer Reports through hclibrary.org with their library card and pin number. They are normally flabbergasted (maybe a strong adjective).  

To get started, browse by Resource Category on the HCLS Now! Research page of our website. You’ll find Consumer Reports listed under Consumer Ratings & Reviews.

To be sure, this is full access to the Consumer Reports website, just like an individual subscription except for the ability to customize the account (sorry, it’s the library’s account). Researching even the smallest purchase through Consumer Reports is prudent, especially since your only cost is  time. You can even print the wonderful charts they include in the magazine for their product reviews. A couple was delighted when I showed them this feature. After reviewing the charts online, and printing them, they changed their mind concerning the brand X washing machine. Personally, I recently read all about the mattress in a box trend. I learned, opted for one of the “best buys,” and now I’m sleeping better. 

My significant other, a nurse currently working with COVID-19 positive patients in the ICU, decided to take up the automobile dealers on their offers of special savings for medical professionals, along with other incentives. After she did the research on the type of car in which she was interested, she used the Consumer Reports “Build & Buy Car Buying Service.” This feature allows you to build the car by selecting the model color, options, etc. You can even view the current incentives (e.g. cash back, special financing) on the vehicle. There are pricing charts, some local dealer inventory and pricing, and user reviews. (My words really don’t do justice to the interface, graphics, and ease of use).

If you’re willing to provide your email, phone number, and address, you can view more specific inventor and receive “personalized” offers from “True Car” certified dealers you’ve selected. The caveat here is that dealerships may contact you quickly. However, let me highlight that you’ve not gone to the automobile dealership, and I’d contend that’s a good thing! 

Consumer Reports even has an article concerning how to buy a car at home and spend less time at the dealership during the pandemic. There’s no commitment and nothing that would prevent you from contacting other local dealers to see if they’d match these offers. 

Sadly, it’s not possible to peruse the Consumer Reports magazines at the library at this time, but I’d still like everyone to remain an informed consumer. 

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.