Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

A dirty white peeling wall with faded areas where there had been framed photos. An electrical cord is plugged into an outlet in what appears to be an otherwise empty room.

By Cherise T.

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2017, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City tells the story of our national rental housing crisis through the lens of the Milwaukee area. Matthew Desmond focuses on two landlords renting the lowest quality properties to eight impoverished residents and families struggling against homelessness. Researching the 2007-2008 economic crisis, Desmond documents how even during the Depression finding affordable housing was nowhere near as difficult as it is today. Currently, paying for housing can cause a descent into poverty because, “the rent eats first.” Due to the limited options available to renters with low incomes, lack of enforced regulations of landlords, and limited local and federal resources to support struggling families, serial eviction has become commonplace.

When I studied the resources to present Undesign the Redline tours at HCLS, I learned about how where one lives and where one is allowed to live impacts a person’s access to good education, rewarding work, and leisure options with family and friends. Structural and systemic racism in the United States controls residential opportunities. Evicted delves into the connection between redlining and housing poverty. Landlords are legally allowed to offer substandard housing. Renters are subjected to a system that favors landlords and offers limited housing subsidies.

This narrative nonfiction title will appeal to readers interested in history and statistical sociological studies as well as those who prefer to follow personal stories. A sociologist, Desmond lived in low income housing as he met the characters who fill his book. Sherrena is a black landlord who gets to know her tenants, assisting them with groceries, for example, but she and her husband also need to make a profit. Doreen is a black single mom caring for three generations under the roofs of smaller and smaller properties even as her family grows. Scott is a white, drug-addicted, former LPN who cannot even afford a rental in a deteriorating trailer park. Arleen is a black single mom who has to apply almost 100 times before a landlord agrees to house someone with multiple children and a history of serial evictions.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.” Eviction tells its stories with sympathy and an abundance of well-researched urban housing realities. It offers insight, data and potential solutions to the problems it describes. There is also an excellent study guide provided by the publisher for use by students and book groups.

Cherise T. 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.

Grant by Ron Chernow

The photograph in black and white, by Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, shows Grant standing, wearing the frock coat of his Union uniform.
Ulysses S. Grant, circa 1864, photographed by Matthew Brady

Review by Jean B.

Biographies, especially those by Ron Chernow, can be a heavy lift – literally. At more than 900 pages, Chernow’s acclaimed 2017 book examining the life of Ulysses S. Grant can be exhausting to hold for more than 30 minutes of reading. So now is a perfect time to tackle this large but highly satisfying tome, when you can read or listen to it electronically on a lightweight device and maybe have extra reading time in your day! Available through OverDrive in both ebook and eaudiobook formats, Grant offers a fascinating, detailed look at both the man and his era.  

I love to read history, biography, and historical fiction, but I’m always discovering how many episodes in history I really know nothing about. The Civil War era has been recorded in myriad ways, and yet, with Grant I gained new perspective on the war — learning details of the Western front that, as a Pennsylvanian whose education focused on Gettysburg, I hadn’t appreciated. More startling, I discovered how little I understood about the Reconstruction Era and the immense challenges that faced President Grant in securing the rights of newly freed slaves to work, vote, and be full citizens in the re-established Union.  

Ron Chernow sets out to correct the one-dimensional and largely negative portraits of Grant by earlier historians which portrayed him as an ineffective political leader tainted by scandals, corruption, and a chronic drinking problem. Though Chernow clearly admires his subject and goes above and beyond to compile contemporary opinions and statements to bolster his case in Grant’s favor, Chernow’s portrait has such depth, complexity, and humanity that I was persuaded, too, by the end, of Grant’s impressive leadership, moral courage, and devoted service to the ideals of a united nation and racial equality.  

And along the way, I enjoyed getting to know so many of the supporting (and often traitorous!) characters in Grant’s life, from his overbearing father, to his society-loving wife, to the infamous General William Tecumseh Sherman, to conniving Gilded Age businessman Jay Gould. It’s all here — family intrigue, dramatic changes of fortune, battles and blood, comradeship and bitter betrayal. Download and dig in!

Jean is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Central Branch who enjoys participating in book clubs with both kids and adults.

Everything Hamilton

Antique paper background with black image of heroic figure pointing to the sky from on top of a star.

Review by Cherise T.

Alexander Hamilton.

My name is Alexander Hamilton.

And there’s a million things I haven’t done

But just you wait, just you wait…

If this stanza makes your heart beat faster or maybe even brings tears to your eyes, then Hamilton: The Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, is the book for you. “Splurge” and download the audiobook as well since Mariska Hargitay’s narration is outstanding. Like the musical itself, words come at the reader fast, and it’s an adventure deciding where to plunge in first. The text, the personal side notations, the primary source materials, and the graphics are a treasure and a joy. The libretto alone would fill a Hamilton fan’s heart, but the book also includes an abundance of stories about the creation of all aspects of the musical. We see the development of the show from the perspectives of creatives and cast members. The vintage-style photographs of the cast taken by Josh Lehrer using a camera lens from the mid-1800s are gorgeous. The book is a celebration of the full arc of the production’s evolution, from Lin’s first rap for the Obamas in 2009 at the White House, through the off-Broadway production, and all the way to opening night on Broadway in 2015. There’s nothing like being in the room where it happens.

On July 13 at 7 pm, author Richard Bell is going to discuss some of the history surrounding Alexander Hamilton. Register with an email address to receive an immediate registration confirmation. You will receive the link to the online class in the confirmation email. If you prefer to call in by phone, please register for the class online, then email askhcls@hclibrary.org to request the dial-in information at least 1 business day in advance.

With Disney+ streaming Hamilton this July, University of Maryland Associate Professor of History Dr. Bell explores this musical phenomenon. He discusses what this amazing musical gets right and gets wrong about Hamilton, the American Revolution, the birth of the United Sates, and about why all that matters. It includes an examination of the choices Hamilton’s creators made to simplify, dramatize, and humanize the complicated historical events and stories. We will also talk about Hamilton’s cultural impact: what does its runaway success reveal about the stories we tell each other about who we are and about the nation we made?

Dr. Bell is the author of Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home. The book tells the gripping and true story about five boys who were kidnapped in the North and smuggled into slavery in the Deep South – and their daring attempt to escape and bring their captors to justice. The book is available to borrow as a physical book and as an eAudiobook via Overdrive/Libby.

Cherise T. 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.

Rainbow Reads for Children, Part One

The book cover shows a multicultural, multiracial group of adults and children holding up a rainbow sign with the title.

By Laci R.

June is LGBTQ+ Pride month, and it’s a time to celebrate all the beautiful identities and colors of the rainbow. Luckily, many vibrant books and stories can help you do so. Representation is incredibly important. Aside from the sheer joy and pleasure of getting to see yourself in books and stories, it promotes inclusivity and begins vital conversations with the children in your life about the history of the LGBTQ+ community and queer characters. Reading books with queer mention needs to be paired with open, safe, and informative conversation so compassion can flourish and curiosities can be sparked.  
 
I have chosen several books to share with you. It was difficult to narrow my list, but having many more resources available that feature characters in the LGBTQ+ community is such an amazing and liberating phenomenon.
 
I’ll start with some of my favorite non-fiction books:  

Stonewall: A Building, an Uprising, a Revolution by Rob Sanders (picture book) gives us a unique perspective on an essential civil rights story. The building itself narrates the story of how the police raided the Stonewall Inn located in New York City early in the morning on June 28, 1969. This wasn’t the first raid that took place, but things were different this time. A protest occurred full of members of the LGBTQ+ community in and around Stonewall Inn as demands of equal rights and justice filled the air. This movement continues even now, as I type these words.

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders (picture book) tells about social activist Harvey Milk and how the gay pride flag, designed by Gilbert Baker, came to be created. It shows Milk as he is elected as one of the first openly gay people in political office and follows his fight for LGBTQ+ rights and freedom. Together, Milk and Baker create a symbol of hope- the rainbow flag. It’s a symbol you still see today proudly displayed all over the world. 

Pair this story with Sewing the Rainbow by Gayle Pitman to see a different perspective and learn other details about the rainbow flag’s creation. Need a follow up activity? Ask the child in your life to make their own flag! One that represents them and what makes them special. Encourage them to share with you and be sure to do the same. 
 
Please note: These books should be shared with the understanding that they offer an introduction to these major events and should be supplemented with additional information and conversation around the topics.  
 
Be sure to also check out Gay & Lesbian History For Kids: The Century Long Struggle for LGBT Rights by Jerome Pohlen, A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities by Mady G and They, She, He, Me: Free To Be by Maya Gonzalez. These books contain excellent information and guidance for understanding a wide variety of identities. 
 
When it comes to picture books, I wish I could write about every single one. I decided to share a sampling of those that are well loved and ones that became unforgettable from the moment I read them. Here are a couple for you to look into, with more coming in Part Two of my LGBTQ+ recommendations for children and families.

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman became an instant favorite. This rhyming story invites you to attend a Pride parade and meet all the wonderful people. Every page exudes joy and pure love. I absolutely adore the illustrations by Kristyana Litten. They are brimming with color and depict an undeniable energy bursting with flair. A note to parents and caregivers is included that provides information on how to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity with children in age-appropriate ways. You’ll also find a reading guide full of facts about LGBTQ+ history and culture.  

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff covers a lot of ground and will surely resonate with transgender children. It offers reassurance about becoming an older sibling all while celebrating some of the many transitions experienced by a family. When born, everyone thought Aidan was a girl. He was given a pretty name and his room and clothes looked like that of girls he knew. However, none of this felt right to him and changes were needed. Aidan’s parents offer endless support as he transitions to living in a way that allows him to flourish and thrive. In doing so, Aidan learns what it takes to be the best older brother he can be: the ability to love with your whole self. I also feel the need to mention that I wish I could share a wardrobe with Aidan because that little guy sure is stylin’.  

I hope these titles will make it into your home, classroom, gift list, or anywhere else that needs a bright rainbow. I invite you to continue learning about LGBTQ+ materials for children by joining me for Part Two, where we’ll take a look at more of my favorite picture books. Let’s keep this celebration going!

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War

The cover shows a woman in 1940's-era clothing, carrying a package under her arm and walking down a deserted alley surrounded by stone walls.

Review by Julie F.

Imagine running the largest spy organization in Vichy France – setting up safe houses and networks, negotiating the tensions between de Gaulle’s Free French and the anti-Gaullist General Giraud, and helping to spirit spies and messengers from France to England in the dead of night on dangerous Lysander plane trips. Never staying in one “safe” location for too long; never knowing who has your back or who might stab you in the back.

Now imagine doing all of that as a woman, a mother of two young children and an infant, in a society where, as author Lynne Olson describes it, “Men fought, and women stayed home” (525). Marie-Madeleine Fourcade resisted both the German occupation and the gendered expectations of a military and espionage apparatus designed for and perpetuated by men. When the life of a spy in occupied France was reputed to be six months at the most, her success is a credit to her resourcefulness, daring, and people skills. The colleagues she trusted and led knew her worth. In the words of Léon Faye, her dependable lieutenant and the father of her youngest child, “A woman…But not just any woman!  She’s an indisputable and undisputed leader. Even the English have accepted her” (201).

Readers who enjoy tales of espionage will be amazed that Marie-Madeleine’s story is real and not more widely known. The scenes depicting her captures and escapes, and those of her Resistance colleagues, are riveting – sometimes by simply talking her way out of the hands of the Gestapo, or waiting until their backs were turned to climb out of a window and make a run for it. Not all went according to plan; she lost friends and companions, and their stories, and her anxiety for their safety and grief over their losses, are powerfully depicted. Her devotion to a cause greater than herself and her family is heroic – even after the war, when she advocated for remembrance ceremonies, official honors, government pensions, and medical care for Alliance agents, as well as benefits for the families of those the German executed. Read this fascinating account of her dedication and defiance of societal norms, and be riveted by her exploits and those of her spy network.

Adult nonfiction. Available in eaudio through CloudLibrary and in ebook and eaudio through Libby.

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she facilitates two book discussion groups – Spies, Lies, and Alibis and Bas Bleu.

Audiobooks and Activities: Fun Ways to Multitask

A bright blue hardback book rests on a natural wood table, with a red bookmark hanging from the bottom. White over-ear headphones sit on top of the book with the cord wrapping loosely in a circle on the table.
Audiobooks are a great way to enrich your current activities.

I will admit: at first, I wasn’t a huge fan of audiobooks. I prided myself on reading novels and turning the last page always seemed like a big accomplishment. However, on a whim a few years ago, I decided to listen to Shonda Rhimes’ self-help autobiography Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person. The experience of listening to Rhimes’s story from her own voice fueled my love of listening to audiobooks. 

If you’re like me, you may have started listening to audiobooks while commuting. A recent survey conducted for the Audio Publishers Association reported that 74% of consumers listen to audiobooks while driving. This makes sense, considering the number of drivers with long commutes. But what happens when work is moved online with no commute? Well, listening at home can provide a welcome addition to your daily activities during these challenging times. Here are a few ideas to help get you started: 

  • Working from Home: Transitioning to remote working and learning can be extremely difficult for anyone, from first-timers to even the most experienced. Instead of turning on the television and getting easily distracted, audiobooks help me stay engaged with my work while having something entertaining to listen to. 
    • My genre suggestion: literary fiction, humor 
  • Exercising: With many gyms closed around the country, what a great time to change up your exercise routine and add audiobooks into the mix! In order to stretch my legs, I like to listen to novels while I take walks through the neighborhood. You may even find yourself taking longer walks because your audiobook is so exciting. 
    • My genre suggestion: thrillers, inspiring non-fiction 
  • Playing Video Games: After working, I always love to unwind by playing a relaxing video game on the computer. A recent joy of mine has been listening to an audiobook during gameplay. Sometimes, the in-game sounds and music can be a bit overstimulating, so listening to an audiobook makes for great background enjoyment. 
    • My genre suggestion: science fiction
  • Puzzling: Never in my life have I seen so many people enjoying puzzles! Life at home has made many fans of puzzles and the more complicated, the better! Playing an audiobook may increase your concentration and will make finding the last piece all the more satisfying. 
    • My genre suggestion: classic mysteries
  • Gardening: What better way to enjoy an audiobook than getting hands-on in your backyard! Become one with nature and plant a garden. While you’re at it, listen to an audiobook that inspires your imagination and amplifies the colors of your plants. 
    • My genre suggestion: fantasy and romance

So go ahead, give an audiobook a try at home! Not sure where to start? Head over to hclibrary.org to check out audiobook options for your phone, tablet and computer. RB Digital now has more than 37,000 titles available for free!

Have additional questions? Contact AskHCLS and we’ll be able to help you find the best selection for your needs! 

Happy Listening! 

Claudia J. is has worked for Howard County Library System for more than four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.