The Darwin Affair
Submitted by David Maschwitz
Redhead by the Side of the Road
Submitted by Greta Michaels
of a conspiracy, possibly involving persons in very high places.
Charles Darwin has just published On the Origin of Species. It’s the talk of the town. Passionate differences of opinion, pro and con, spring up in the scientific and religious communities. Some are persuaded by Darwin’s evidence for natural selection and the evolution of species. Others think his theories are rubbish and even heretical. Particularly disturbing for them is the notion that humans descended from apes and the implication that all people have equal stature regardless of class.
As Inspector Field probes deeper into his perceived conspiracy, he meets resistance from his boss (no surprise there). He endures humiliation, physical injury, and repeated trials and tribulations in his search for the killer and his sponsors. It becomes clear to him that it is not the Queen they want to kill, but Prince Albert. Albert’s strong support for the natural sciences, including Darwin’s theories, not to mention his egalitarian political views, is seen as a threat to some in high places.
A butcher’s apprentice, Decimus Cobb, is a self-taught surgical genius who achieves extraordinary skills with a scalpel. He wins the respect and admiration of the formally trained surgeons at St. Thomas Hospital. Unfortunately, Mr. Cobb has a propensity for using his amazing skills to kill people and satisfy his fetishes. He brazenly leaves a calling card with each victim by removing their left ear, very expertly of course. He must be stopped before he gets to the Prince.
This is Tim Mason’s first novel, and he delivers a compelling, hard-to-put-down mystery. He seamlessly mixes real historical figures and events with fiction. The story is bloody, gruesome, and a little sad as people you come to care about are killed off. It is beautifully written in the language of nineteenth-century England with occasional bits of wry humor. I highly recommend it. - David Maschwitz
Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler
The latest of twenty-three novels published by Anne Tyler is a recent addition to our library. Like her earlier novels, Redhead by the Side of the Road focuses primarily on character and family relationships as they change. Realistic details make the reader feel present in the character’s life.
Micah Mortimer, the Tech Hermit, is a compulsively well-organized man of forty-three. He adheres to a daily schedule of run, shower, meals, evenings of spider solitaire and beer before the TV. He lives in the basement apartment of the building he manages on a weekly schedule of raking and emptying trash and consults about computers for clients who telephone.
Of course, the comfortable routine is upset: first a young man who thinks Micah may be his biological father appears; then Cass, Micah’s woman friend, a fourth-grade teacher, seems about to lose her apartment. Who the “redhead” is, is left for the reader.
Tyler has won many awards: She was awarded the National Book Critics Award for fiction in 1985. A Spool of Blue Thread was short-listed for the Mann Booker Prize in 2015. Redhead by the Side of the Road is on this year’s long list for the Mann Booker.
Our Library has eight Anne Tyler novels in addition to the prize winners. Some critics have declared her works too “cute” and her male characters too “wimpy.” I have always found her books absorbing and diverting. In these days of pandemic isolation, that’s a recommendation. - Greta Michaels
Originally published in the October 2020 issue of the 1666 Coffman Newsletter
Relevant certainly describes a handful of these books—important ones on climate, pandemics, and race—not necessarily cheery topics but valuable at a time when perspective and facts are essential.
Not all the books are on such serious topics. Three are visual treats. And if nothing but good fiction can transport you from the present reality, perhaps you’ll enjoy a new translation of a French classic.
We’re also introducing new mysteries set in India, Italy, and Scandinavia. If you think you’re not a fan of the mystery genre, maybe you should sample one just for the armchair travel possibilities.
Yes, I’m intentionally teasing you. Look for the entire list of books to be distributed to your door by mid-October. You can pick up an extra copy in the library, and it will be on the website.
Thanks to teams led by Katie Weiblen and Catherine Wengler and composed of Greta Michaels, Victoria Tirrel, Barbara Woshinsky, Veena Deo, Faye Herold, Jenny Rajput, and Helga Visscher for selecting these books and making the library’s collection better than ever.
Carol Van Why coordinated the project. Veena Deo, Ed Lotterman, Victoria Tirrel, Carol Van Why, and Richard Zeyen donated five of the books from the Committee’s wish list. As requested by the Board, the extra $300 was spent at a local, independent bookseller. Richard Zeyen placed orders for the rest via Amazon Prime.
Jim Crow era, and today’s systemic racism are rooted in an American caste system—one based on skin color. Wilkerson’s “Eight Pillars of Caste” provides readers with a framework for understanding current conversations around white privilege and systemic racism.
According to Robin DiAngelo, the persistence of the U.S. caste system has produced a white population with little stamina for frank discussions about race. In her book, White Fragility she explores the defensive behaviors that even well-intentioned whites exhibit when challenged racially. Ijeome Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race offers us concrete strategies for avoiding these defensive behaviors.
First look for these titles on the RECENT & RELEVANT shelves. If not there, check in the AFRICAN AMERICAN ISSUES section on the Library’s upper level. The books are very popular and may also be on loan to another resident.
went on to win the National Book Critics Circle Award. Wilkerson chronicles the lives of three individuals who left different regions of the South, headed to different U.S. cities at different times during a 55-year time span. Find it in the Library’s BIOGRAPHY COLLECTIONS area.
An excellent companion to Wilkerson’s book is Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series. Jacob’s parents gradually made their way from the rural South, eventually settling in Harlem. Fortunately, Lawrence’s artistic talent was nurtured during the Depression by a WPA program dedicated to cultural work. His 60-piece Migration Series, depicting scenes from this twentieth century mass migration, is reproduced in this book. Find this book on our Library’s upper level in the ARTISTS section.
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