Category: History & Politics

The L.A. Times Book Prize Logo

L.A. Times Book Prize Finalists Include Michelle Obama, Tara Westover

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is the largest literary gathering in the country, attracting over 150,000 people to a massive celebration of culture. Categories include First Fiction, Current Interest, Biography, Fiction, Poetry, Graphic Novel, Thriller, History, Science & Technology, and Young Adult Literature. This year, the nominations are as exciting as they are nerve-wracking—not all of them can win! Here’s the conundrum: they all deserve the prize. Don’t believe it? Let’s take a look at some of our most distinguished nominees.

 

Michelle Obama with book 'Becoming'

Image Via The Chicago Tribune

 

Michelle Obama’s Becoming has already become a staggering success. Penguin Random House paid over $65 million for the rights to Michelle and Barack’s autobiographies, making it one of the most expensive book deals of all time. This figure is also unprecedented among other presidential figures: Bill Clinton earned an advance of $15 million for his own autobiography, which, as you might have noticed, is less than half of that sixty-five. Critics have called Barack Obama “that rare politician who can actually write,” and The New York Times reviewed Dreams From My Father as a literary masterpiece rather than another ghostwritten memoir. But Michelle isn’t doing so bad—Becoming sold a record-breaking two million copies in only fifteen days, and it went on to become the best-selling book of 2018. (And yes, Barack put his wife’s book on his famous reading list.)

Other titles in the category include Michael Lewis’ incisive The Fifth Risk, which critically examines the Trump administration. Given increased visibility regarding issues of immigration, human rights, and the possible border wall, Francisco Cantú’s The Line Becomes a River is also a timely inclusion.

 

Michael Lewis' 'The Fifth Risk'

Image Via The International Anthony Burgess Foundation

 

Though Becoming is a memoir, judges have classified it within the Current Interest category—which means, fortunately, that it isn’t competing against Tara Westover’s Educated, a memoir of triumph, persistence, fanaticism, and violence that earned the world’s attention in 2018. USA Today called it the best memoir in years, and with good reason: it’s been a finalist for just about everything. (Of course, it was also on Barack Obama’s reading list.) The memoir chronicles Tara Westover’s journey from beneath Buck’s Peak, the mountain that looms in her childhood as enormous as the influence of her father’s survivalist views. By the age of seventeen, Westover had never seen a doctor nor set foot in a classroom—in fact, until her teenage years, there was no record of her birth at all. Westover has since received a PhD from Cambridge. While there are other books in this category, this is certainly a contender.

 

Tara Westover with memoir, 'Educated'

Image Via Bustle

 

Other titles in the running for various L.A. Times prizes carry serious weight—Elizabeth Acevedo’s YA novel The Poet X is up for a prize after having won the National Book Award. Acevedo’s diverse novel explores poetry as means for personal freedom in an immigrant community with traditional (read: sexist) values. Particularly interesting nominations in other categories include Science & Technology’s Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy, a notable book in the wake of the opioid epidemic.

 

Elizabeth Acevedo with novel, 'The Poet X'

Image Via Medium

 

Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage: A Novel, a nomination for the Fiction category, was among Oprah’s 2018 book club picks and also featured on Barack Obama’s 2018 reading list. Of course, it has some fierce competition: Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers, an evocative depiction of the AIDS crisis, is also in the running. Renowned comedian Amy Poehler is currently optioning the novel for a TV adaptation—if that’s not good enough, it’s also one of the NYT‘s top ten books for 2018.

 

'An American Marriage' by Tayari Jones and 'The Great Believers' by Rebecca Makkai

Image Via Entertainment Weekly

 

There are too many excellent titles to list: with ten categories and five nominees in each, you could finish reading one by the time we described them all. Take a look at the 2019 finalists, and decide which one would be a winner on your bookshelf.

 

Featured Image Via The L.A. Times

Badass Female Librarians Delivered Books on Horseback in 1930s

If you are someone who is excited about female empowerment as I am, then you’re going to love this! According to History Daily, during the Great Depression, unemployment rates soared, and in turn people endured extreme poverty, so many had little access to books.

At the time, Franklin Roosevelt was trying to resolve the Great Depression, and his Works Progress Administration created The Pack Horse Library Initiative to improve American literacy and therefore chances of employment. The librarians were mostly women who lived in the counties they served. Public schools in the local areas contributed books, magazines, newspapers and any other reading materials available.

The ‘bookwomen’ were paid $28 a month and were responsible for their own food and supplies, and horse. These librarians travelled over mountains to isolated homes—through blizzards and mud to make sure everyone had a book in their hands. The women would ride as far as 120 miles, and at times if the locations were close by, they would walk with their horses, holding on to their reins. In 1943, the program ended because employment increased massively during World War II, and nearly one thousand pack horse librarians had served 1.5 million people in forty-eight Kentucky counties!

 

Check out the photos below!

 

image via historydaily.org

 

image via historydaily.org

 

Image via historydaily.org

 

Image via historydaily.org

 

Image via historydaily.org

 

Image via historydaily.org

 

See more amazing photos of these heroic librarians on History Daily!

 

Featured image via atlasobscura.com
Drew Ferguson

Racist Confederate Book Found in Congressman’s Office

Georgia Congressman Drew Ferguson removed a Robert E. Lee biography from his office after a page highlighting the Confederate general’s racist ideology was found on display.

The Washington Post reports that James Miller, a representative of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 554 and one of Ferguson’s constituents, was among a group that spotted the biography in Ferguson’s office and was “at a loss for words.”

 

Robert E Lee Racist Biography

Image via The Washington Post

The book, titled Gen. Robert Edward Lee: Soldier, Citizen, and Christian Patriot, was opened to a page exhibiting remarkably racist pro-slavery beliefs, reading, “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and, I hope, will prepare and lead them to better things.”

Ferguson claims he didn’t know about the book until the AFGE members asked about it on Monday during their visit. He also blames the book’s presentation on his staff, who were supposedly responsible for decorating his office.

“As a black man and constituent, I can say that nothing makes you feel more unwelcome in your own member of Congress’ office than seeing such racist memorabilia,” Miller explained.

AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. also added,

“Congressman Ferguson needs to take accountability for what is displayed and presented in his taxpayer-funded office. This offensive book that’s opened to specific pages — and displayed in a glass case — does not haphazardly appear. Someone intentionally displayed the book and this despicable speech was intentionally placed.”

 

 

 

Featured Image via Talking Points Memo

Nun smoking cigarette and drinking alcohol

Historic Text Reveals Nun Faked Own Death to Pursue ‘Way of Carnal Lust’

We’ve all tried to get out of something before, whether it’s trouble or plans we didn’t mean to make. Usually, we go about as far as a ‘sorry, can’t come!’ A recent discovery led to a story even bigger than the hilariously large historical tome where it was found.

 

Historical archivists uncover business ledger containing note about runaway nun

Image Via The Guardian

 

Historians recently discovered a handwritten note in the margins of a heavy business register, a reminder from archbishop William Melton to “warn Joan of Leeds, lately nun of the house of St Clement by York, that she should return to her house.” Seems like William Meltdown should have minded his own business instead of minding Joan’s. But people were a little repressed in 1318, and so he wrote another: according to the archbishop, Joan had “impudently cast aside the propriety of religion and the modesty of her sex” to pursue the sin of carnal lust. Since we assume she’ll be joined by plenty of others this upcoming Valentine’s Day, that doesn’t sound so bad. But it gets worse—also cooler.

Our new hero Joan cast aside the modesty of her sex and hurled it into an empty grave, along with a fake corpse that would ensure nobody asked any questions. Of course, we have plenty of questions: how did you become so iconic, Joan!?

Melton, as you might have expected, was not quite so impressed:

 

Out of a malicious mind simulating a bodily illness, she pretended to be dead, not dreading for the health of her soul, and with the help of numerous of her accomplices, evildoers, with malice aforethought, crafted a dummy in the likeness of her body in order to mislead the devoted faithful and she had no shame in procuring its burial in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place.

 

We wish we knew exactly what she’d used to make the dummy corpse—it could be useful next time we have a rough day at work or a particularly nasty term paper (so, any term paper at all). Unfortunately, since many records did not survive, we’ll never know whether or not our beloved Sister Joan ever got some. That doesn’t mean there isn’t more to this story.

Many understandably suspect that most people leaving the clergy did so because of the whole celibacy issue. Historians note that many took the cloth in their teen years (so, their Medieval thirties?) and, later in their brief, shower-less lives, didn’t retain the same beliefs and motivations. But there were other, graver reasons.

 

A painting depicts victims dying of the Black Death

IMAGE VIA hISTORY tODAY

 

While it is entirely possible that Sister Joan did leave the abbey to pursue her carnal lust, celibacy wasn’t the only turn-off when it came to a religious existence. Though the Black Death reached its devastating peak from 1347 – 1351, life with the Church had always been a relatively dangerous one—and not just in the metaphoric, spiritual sense. Since the priesthood was responsible for visiting the sick and offering last rites (and since doctors mostly existed to tell you just how dead you were), nuns were at risk of contracting incurable infections.

Whatever Joan’s reasons, we’re glad to know what we have to assume are the most exciting parts of her story.

 

Featured Image Via Pictame

Kim Kardashian-West and Alice Marie Johnson

Inmate Freed With Kim Kardashian-West’s Help Scores Book Deal

We know Kim Kardashian as a social media superstar—famous for being famous, a self-renewing resource of celebrity. She’s a bit like a real-life Barbie; it’s just that instead of going to medical school, launching herself into outer space, and tending to wounded animals (Barbie must have a fortune in student debt), Kardashian-West is a socialite, reality TV star, artist, entrepreneur, and cultural icon. We’d call her a wearer of many hats, except there just aren’t that many hats that Kardashian-West would deign to wear. Her latest look—advocate and contributor to prison reform—has the power to enact real social change. In fact, it already has.

 

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 31: Kim Kardashian West attends KKWxMario Dinner at Jean-Georges Beverly Hills on March 31, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/WireImage) Alice Marie Johnson

Image Via People Magazine

 

In 2018, Kardashian-West intervened in the case of Alice Marie Johnson, a sixty-two-year-old great-grandmother serving life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. Johnson became involved in the drug world after her divorce and the chain-reaction of misfortunes that followed: gambling addiction; bankruptcy; unemployment; and, worst of all, her son’s untimely death. Though Johnson never handled drugs directly while working for a cocaine-trafficking ring, she did pass along coded messages to facilitate the transactions. When the police caught onto the operation, ten co-conspirators turned her in. As a result of their cooperation, each received reduced sentences ranging from no time at all to ten years’ imprisonment.

 

"Please wake up, America, and help end this injustice." -AMJ

Image Via YouTube

 

In 1997, Johnson was the only one sentenced to life. Since then, she’s expressed remorse for her involvement:

I felt like a failure… I went into a complete panic and out of desperation, I made one of the worst decisions of my life to make some quick money. I became involved in a drug conspiracy.

In an interview with Mic, Johnson describes the personal tragedies that have unfolded in her absence from the family home. Her mother, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, has no caretaker. After her arrest, her only living son dropped out of school. He is currently imprisoned himself. “Unless things change,” Johnson pleaded, “I will never go home alive.”

 

Kardashian-West, live on CNN, expresses her support for Alice Johnson

Image Via CNN

 

Does that upset you? It upset Kim K: after reading the article, she contacted Johnson’s legal team. “[Kardashian-West] was not only moved to tears,” said lawyer Brittney Barnett, “but moved to action.” In a highly-publicized stunt, the reality TV star met with Donald Trump to discuss the possibility of commuting Johnson’s sentence. An ecstatic Johnson offered her gratitude for the intervention:

Ms Kardashian, you are quite literally helping to save my life and restore me to my family. I was drowning and you have thrown me a life jacket, and given me hope that this life jacket I’m serving may one day be taken off.

And she had plenty to be grateful for. On May 30, 2018—Johnson’s birthday—she was officially free.

 

Alice Marie Johnson weeps at her release

Image Via CBS

 

This week, an imprint of HarperCollins has announced that there’s more to Johnson’s story. The book, After Life: My Journey from Incarceration to Freedom, will be available on May 21. Harper has deemed it an “honest, faith-driven memoir” taking a “deep look into the system of mass incarceration.” Kardashian-West will write the foreword. In an official statement, she shared what the story means to her and to the world:

Her story is a gift that will now reach so many millions more through her book and film. I hope Alice’s case is just the beginning of a movement to help those left behind. I am invested in continuing to support Alice and this cause.


Now that Johnson is free, she’s also free to tell her story. “I feel humbled that the telling of my story gives hope,” Johnson said, “and that my years of pain were not in vain.”