Archive for the ‘Non-fiction Titles’ Category

isabel-wilkersonOn Monday, September 2nd, the Booked for the Day Book Group met to discuss the book The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Here are a few of the comments made during the meeting:

The group thought that the book did not read like a history book because of the personal stories that were told.  We also talked about the research she had to do and the years it took her to complete the work.

We liked how the personal stories covered three different decades with three different areas of the country and how Wilkerson did not sugar coat the stories of Robert and George when telling their life stories. One thing that was confusing in the book was how she would repeat the same story in different chapters which made you unsure if you had already read that chapter before. Some of our members thought she could have used a better editor.

We talked about what motivated Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster to leave the South and the dangerous journey that all three had to make.

We talked about some of the Jim Crow laws that we were not aware of and what instances of racial terrorism stood out most in the book?

We talked about how some of the migrants did not tell their stories to their children and the reasons this may have happened. We also talked about how the characters did not return to the south for fear of safety, financial reasons, or just for the fact that they did not want to be reminded of what happened to them in the south.

We all decided that Ida Mae Gladney was our favorite character in the book and she was the one we were more anxious to hear more about.

Some of the misconceptions that Wilkerson dispelled were that the education in the north was better than the south, the rents they had to pay in the Chicago area, and the fact that there were more single parent households in the north than in the south.

We also talked about the demonstrations in Cicero and one of our member’s mother remembered when it took place and relayed some of the story.

These are just of few things mentioned during the discussion. Please feel free to add any of your thoughts in the comment section.


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The Chicago Public Library has something similar to our “Big Read” called “One Book, One Chicago,” but instead of one month spent with a great book, they are spending a year exploring a theme through books, films, performances, lectures, storytelling and art. The 2013-12 selection is the same as ours for this month, The Warmth of Other Suns. Check out the Chicago Public Library’s site for programs that you might be interested in.


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College of Communications professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson, author of the acclaimed book “The Warmth of Other Suns,” talks about how writing the book provided a connection to her family’s past.

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A “New York” cheesecake for a book about the New York Medical Examiner’s Office!


Booked for the Day had a lively discussion about “The Poisoner’s Handbook: murder and the birth of forensic medicine in Jazz Age New York” by Deborah Blum. There was no one at the discussion who disliked the book, and reaction ranged from general enjoyment to really loving it. When asked if they would recommend the book to someone else; almost everyone said they already had, or would, or would for the right person – a person who liked science book.

Most people said they found the science interesting; and that the chemistry actually seemed more graphic than the murders described in the book. We talked about the most memorable cases in the story; and how even though the book takes place 80 years ago; there were still some parallels to our modern time – like a big corporation not taking responsibility for all of the potentially harmful action to its workers.

We also talked about how far forensic science seems to have come, and how the book did a great job of really painting the picture of the birth of this science, of how much work went into developing procedures and experiments to further forensic medicine.

We discussed the structure of the book as well; how many of us when starting the book thought it would have a more narrative tone of following a handful of characters – and while Norris and Gettler remain the constants in each chapter, the arc of the book is really around each chapter’s poison and the story of forensic medicine. While everyone agreed that they liked the book, many of us admitted that it was easy to put down and then pick up a couple days later – it didn’t stick with us or seem like a “page-turner”.

But overall, everyone did find the book highly enjoyable and it provided for a great discussion.

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Young women using radium laced paint to create glowing watch faces at a watch factory.

Chapter Eight in “The Poisoner’s Handbook” by Deborah Blum details the disturbing side-effects of Radium poisoning; primarily before we knew what a dangerous substance it is. Marie Curie discovered the element and published the first article on it wither her husband Pierre in 1898.  Almost twenty years later in 1925, New Jersey Medical Examiner Harrison Stanford Martland was publishing his article on radiation poisoning from radium in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Martland published his findings based largely on the study of the bones of a woman who had been a worker at a watch factory in New Jersey;  she, along with many other young women, had been employed to pain the faces of watches with paint laced with radium which allowed the watch faces to glow. There is a Wikipedia page, here, on these girls, known in the press as “Radium Girls. It also seems that there was a similar Radium Dial factory in Ottawa Illinois, where workers were poisoned by radium; Chicago magazine has an article and documentary about this here.

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author James M. Cain; his two most famous works were made into films

Chapter Seven in “The Poisoner’s Handbook” focuses on Methyl Alcohol, as well as the murder of Albert Snyder by his wife Ruth Snyder and her lover Judd Gray. As author Deborah Blum notes on page 164, “The plotting of Snyder murder….was so bizarre that novelist James M. Cain would later use it as a basis for his two best-known novels, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity.”

Both works were also created into films; and both are in the Lisle Library collection, along with many of his stories.

Author Deborah Blum ends the chapter with a graphic depiction of Ruth and Judd’s execution; along with a detailed description of the photograph that was taken of Ruth’s execution. I’m not posting the photo on the blog due to its graphic nature, but you can find the photo by using Google Images and searching “Ruth Snyder”.

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Wondering what “vituperative” means? Me too! Author Deborah Blum uses it on page 156 of “The Poisoner’s Handbook”; “Butler’s declaration, though, received less attention than the vituperative answers it generated.”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s website; here, defines the word as “uttering or given to censure : containing or characterized by verbal abuse”.


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