Shelfish: The Blog of Answers

The 2016 National Book Awards

The Underground RailroadToday, the National Book Foundation announced the winners of the 2016 National Book Awards.

It's no surprise that Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad took the top honors for fiction. Since even before his first novel, 1999's The Intuitionist, Whitehead has been making waves in literary circles. His articles and essays for the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Harper’s along with his six novels and two non-fiction books are wildly respected. They vary in genre, subject matter, and style, but Whitehead's interests come through. All of his writing touches on themes of pop culture, technology, city living, and the African American experience in America.

With the Underground Rairoad, Whitehead has had his breakout success. The book tells the story of a runaway slave on an underground railroad that is in no way metaphorical. Its a literal network of train tunnels and tracks with conductors and engineers who help slaves escape to the North. While the America depicted in the story is an imaginary one, Whitehead's ruminates on the violent history of slavery in America that was all too real.

The book has been on all the book lists with everyone from President Obama and Oprah recommending it.

The winners in the other categories are no less distinguished. The nonfiction book, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi is subtitled The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Kendi argues that the only way to move past racism in America is to understand where it comes from. Chicago poet Daniel Borzutzky won for his collection The Performance of Becoming Human which confronts the ways that nations and bureaucracies destroy local communities. Volume three of the graphic novel series March won the Young People's Award. Written by Georgia Representative and civil rights activist John Lewis with Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, March encourages readers to understand the American civil rights movement, its philosophies of nonviolence, and its lesson to speak out when things are not just.

Three Books You Should Read

Nickel and DimedLisa Lucas, the head of the National Book Foundation, is telling people to read something different. There have been a number of studies that suggest that reading fosters empathy and helps people feel connected to the world. Some doctors have even been prescribing literature to help fight loneliness and mild cases of depression. At a time when people feel so divided from each other there's a small and simple way to understand where other people are coming from: reading. Lucas says "We all need to be reading across the lines we've drawn in our lives." Here are a few to get you started:

Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich is a modern classic that deftly portrays the plight of America's working-class poor. Ehrenreich decides to see if she can scratch out a comfortable living in blue-collar America. What she discovers is a culture of desperation, where workers often take multiple low-paying jobs just to keep a roof overhead.

In Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Hochschild, the renowned sociologist embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into the heart of the bayou of Lake Charles, Louisiana, a stronghold of the conservative Right.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Through the author's own evolving understanding of the subject over the course of his life comes a bold and personal investigation into America's racial history and its contemporary echoes.

Why You Should See Arrival

Right now is the perfect time for the movie, Arrival.

When huge black objects appear hovering in locations all around the globe, the world panics. Many people are scared. Are they here to here to fight? To enslave humanity? Maybe to take our jobs? It's hard to know because they don't speak our language and we certainly don't speak theirs.

Despite world leaders' distrust of the visitors, a few brave, hopeful people, willing to talk, is all we really need to save the world. But first we need to understand each other, spend time getting to know one another, and figure out how we can help each other.

The destruction of one group isn't required for the survival of the other. Together we can be better despite our differences. By making the effort to reach out to others, explore our differences, and discover our similarities, we can literally make the world a better place.

Arrival is in theaters now. The short story it was based on can be found in Ted Chiang's collection, Stories of Your Life.

In Honor of Leonard Cohen

You Wanted it Darker“It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away,” a statement from Cohen’s record label reads. “We have lost one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries.”

Emerging from the late sixties singer/songwriter scene that gave us Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchel, Cohen came to public prominence by performing a duet with Judy Collins in 1976 on her television variety show. But his greatest success came with the classic song “Hallelujah.” Originally released on the 1984 album Various Positions, the song found widespread acclaim after a cover version by John Cale inspired another recording by Jeff Buckley. “Hallelujah” is said to have been covered by more than 200 musicians around the world. It is even the subject of a book, The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” by Alan Light and was used awkwardly in the soundtrack to Zack Snyder’s blockbuster comic book movie, Watchmen.

After nearly 50 years in the music business, at the age of 82, Cohen continued his creative output. Just weeks ago he released You Want it Darker. Considered by many reviewers to be a carefully constructed last testament, concluding a lifetime of artistic work, Cohen’s final album debuted at number ten on the Billboard charts. Douglas Heselgrave of Paste Magazine called You Want it Darker “the best music he has created since Various Positions.”

Election Movies for Election Day

Napoleon DynamiteTomorrow is the big day. From 6:00 am until 7:00 pm our Meeting Room will transform into a polling place for Norwood Park Township Precincts 5 and 17. Many people will spend the day pouring over exit polls trying to predict the day's winners. Some of us would rather wait until all is said and done and find out the winners the next day. We'll watch some movies instead of cable news.

A high school teacher's life spirals out of control when he becomes obsessed with ruining the campaign of an annoying overachiever determined to become class president.

Primary Colors
An ideological young man joins the political campaign of a smooth-talking candidate with questionable morals in this semi-fictionalized account of Bill Clinton's first presidential run.

When the President goes into a coma, his corrupt administration hires Dave, a look-a-like, to take his place and avoid a scandal. But the plan backfires when Dave has his own agenda.

The American President
A widowed U.S. president's second term campaign is jeopardized when he falls in love with a political lobbyist, opening himself up to attacks from his opponent.

Napoleon Dynamite
A weird kid with a weird haircut decides to help his new friend win the class presidency, while dealing with his weird family life. Vote for Pedro!

Cubs Win!

Tonight the Cubs won the World Series. The last time that happened was on October 14th, 1908 when they defeated the Detroit Tigers. To put that date into context, here are some other things that happened in 1908:

  • Ernest Shackleton set sail on the first of his Antarctic exploration mission. Six years later, disaster struck during his third expedition when his ship became trapped in ice.
  • Robert Baden-Powell published "Scouting for Boys" setting off the worldwide Boy Scout movement.
  • In Persia, the first major discovery was made of oil in the Middle East.
  • Wilbur Wright (of the Wright Brothers) traveled to France where he gave the first demonstration of controlled powered flight in Europe. 
  • The first Model T rolled of the assembly line of the Ford plant in Detroit.
  • Notorious bandits Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were reportedly killed in South America.
  • James Murray Spangler invented the upright vaccuum cleaner and sold the patent to William H. Hoover.
  • Parisian artist Émile Cohl produced the first fully animated movie.

24 Audiobooks, Movies, Albums, and Comics to be Thankful For

During the Thanksgiving holiday season lets take a look at 24 audiobooks, movies, albums, and comics that we're grateful are available on
Day One: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.
One of Italy’s most acclaimed authors offers a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends growing up in Naples during the 1950s.
Harper Lee's classic masterwork of honor and injustice in the deep south takes readers to the roots of human behavior. It is compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving.
Ray Bradbury's rumination of aging, from childhood to adulthood and from adulthood to old age, is more well written and poetic than any dark fantasy needs to be.
Selected by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg as part of his A Year In Books series, historian Yuval Noah Harari integrates history and science to challenge everything we thought we knew about being human.
Day Five: Yes Please
The audiobook edition of Amy Poehler's first book features  appearances from Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner, and even Amy's parents for an experience more like a cocktail party than your average celebrity autobiography.
The only history book to ignore the great men in high places and tell America's story from the point of view of its women, factory workers, African-Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers. 
When infamously narcissistic trumpeter Miles Davis put together a nine piece bebop band he probably knew he was creating what would go down in history as the epitome of cool jazz.
The college level video courses on everything from astronomy and ancient history to drawing and playing chess are just as entertaining as they are educational.
C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia has captivated readers of all ages for decades, enchanting them with a magical realm where boys and girls become kings and queens, where animals talk, and were good always triumphs over evil.
Day Ten: Knuckleball
You don't need to be a baseball fan to appreciate this gentle documentary about the impossible-to-hit pitch thrown by very few professional players, including New York Met R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield, a Red Sox veteran.
Day Eleven: Charade
The most Hitchcockian movie never directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Charade stars Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Walter Matthau in a twisty-turny stylish comedic thriller.
Day Twelve: Stop Making Sense
More than 30 years after their groundbreaking concert film first ran, the Stop Making Sense live album sounds just as uniquely new as the Talking Heads did in the Reagan-era.
Without even seeing the live show, the recording of Hamilton's music, mixing hip hop with showtunes, lives up to all the hype.
Day Fourteen: The Walking Dead
You've probably seen the gory zombie series on television and you might think you know the whole story, but the original graphic novels tell an alternate, but just as good, story of Rick Grimes and his band of survivors struggling during the zombie apocalypse.
Day Fifteen: Lumberjanes
Five best friends spending the summer at Lumberjane scout camp...defeating yetis, three-eyed wolves, and giant falcons...what’s not to love about this graphic novel series?
Day Sixteen: Pee-Wee's Playhouse
Pee Wee Herman introduced America’s youth—and millions of young-at-heart adults—to a new brand of Saturday morning show when he and his merry band of playmates (human, puppet, and otherwise) revolutionized the face of children’s television.
Day Seventeen: Tig Notaro
Comedian Tig Notaro built a career, like most comics, on observational comedy. But on the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she improvised an entire set, telling the audience about her fears and other personal difficulties. With that sad, scary, revealing, and hilarious performance Tig became a comedy icon.
Day Eighteen: Magnolia Electric Co.
Singer-songwriter Jason Molina recorded for years under the pseudonym Songs: Ohia with a rotating collection of backing musicians. 2003 marked a shift in direction for Molina. Drawing heavily on the heartland sounds of of the 1960s and 70s, he put together a stable band of his best collaborators and created an all-time great album of country-inspired classic rock.
Day Nineteen: Pete the Cat
Pete the Cat is a groovy, blue cat. No matter where he goes, Pete the Cat always keeps his cool. He loves surfing, playing baseball and guitar, spending time with his friends, and trying new things.
Day Twenty: Winnie the Pooh
If you want a family break from TV and movies, get comfy, close your eyes, and let master storyteller A.A. Milne and narrator Peter Dennis offer timeless treasures of childhood that continue to speak to all of us with the kind of freshness and heart needed in the best children's stories.
Day Twenty-One: Motown
With just a few clicks, travel back over 50 years with more than 200 number one hits from Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, Martha & the Vandellas, the Temptations and more of Hitsville's greatest performers.
Day Twenty-Two: Y The Last Man
Over ten volumes, writer Brian K. Vaughan and illustrator by Pia Guerra tell the story of Yorick Brown, an unemployed and unmotivated slacker who discovers he is the only male left after a plague instantly kills every mammal with a Y chromosome. If you'd prefer a little more optimism in your Walking Dead, then this series is for you.
For a certain generation, Mystery Science Theater's annual "Turkey Day" marathons of cheesy movies is America's most beloved new Thanksgiving tradition since Butterball turkeys and marshmallow sweet potatoes.
Day Twenty-Four: Lonesome Dove
This sprawling epic of the Old West tells the story of the last frontier, a daring cattle drive, and an undying love. Featuring performances by Robert Duvall, Tommy lee Jones, Angelica Houston, Diane Lane, and Danny Glover, Lonesome Dove continues to be a treasured classic for generations to come.

Publishers Weekly's Best Books of the Year

Publishers Weekly best of 2016It's not even November yet but the end-of-year-list season seems to be upon us already. Publishers Weekly just released their annual best book list. It features 150 titles in categories from fiction and poetry, to nonfiction and comics. They also rank the year's best children's and young adult books. The entire list is viewable on the Publishers Weekly website.

The overall top ten for 2016 includes:

Annie Proulx's Barkskins, an epic novel about the taking down of the world's forests; What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell, the story of a male prostitute and an American teacher in Bulgaria; Blood in the Water, Heather Ann Thompson's account of the 1971 Attica Prison Uprising; Evicted by socialogist Matthew Desmond who explores the impact of eviction on poor families in Milwaukee; Frances Wilson's Guilty Thing, a biography of the 19th century writer, Thomas De Quincey; A Kingdom of Their Own, foreign corresponent Joshua Partlow's exploration of America's entanglement with Afghanistan; Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams with a title that tells you what you need to know; Secondhand Time, Svetlana Alexievich's bleak document of the last days of the Soviet Union; The Vegetarian by Han Kang, winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize; and of course, Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad

11 Books to Read After Watching Black Mirror

The third season of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror premiered on Netflix earlier this month and has quickly replaced Stranger Things as the number one topic of discussion among pop culture obsessed viewers. If you haven't seen Black Mirror, you can think of it as a modern take on The Twilight Zone. It's an anotholgy series with each episode containing a complete, self-contained story. There is an over arching theme to the series, though. Each episode explores a high-tech near-future where humanity's greatest innovations and darkest instincts collide. As its title suggests, Black Mirror is a dark series, warning that the opportunities of technology might come at the price of our worst nightmares.

If you're a Netflix subscriber who hasn't seen Black Mirror, it is highly recommended. If you're intrigued but don't have Netflix, you can borrow one of our Roku streaming devices. Hook it up to your TV and home internet and use our Netflix subscription.

If you've already watched all the episodes and want more, Lincoln Michel at GQ Magazine has put together a list of 12 books to read after watching Black Mirror. Almost all of his suggestions are available to borrow from Eisenhower.

When the story opens, Snowman is sleeping in a tree, mourning the loss of his beloved Oryx and his best friend Crake, and slowly starving to death. He searches for supplies in a wasteland. As he tries to piece together what has taken place, the narrative shifts to decades earlier. How did everything fall apart so quickly? Why is he left with nothing but his haunting memories? Snowman explores the answers to these questions in the double journey he takes - into his own past, and back to Crake's high-tech bubble-dome, where the world came to grief.
Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it. Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it's only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of Hailsham.
A frighteningly persuasive, high-tech fable, following the lives of four narrators living in an alternative futuristic Cape Town, South Africa. Kendra, an art-school dropout, brands herself for a nanotech marketing program; Lerato, an ambitious AIDS baby, plots to defect from her corporate employers; Tendeka, a hot-headed activist, is becoming increasingly rabid; and Toby, a roguish blogger, discovers that the video games he plays for cash are much more than they seem. On a collision course that will rewire their lives, this tale paints anything but a forecasted utopia, satirically undermining the reified idea of progress as society's white knight.
Rebecca Wright has gotten her life back, finding her way out of grief and depression following a personal tragedy years ago. She spends her days working in customer support for the Internet dating site where she first met her husband. However, she has a persistent, strange sense that everything around her is somewhat off-kilter: she constantly feels as if she has walked into a room and forgotten what she intended to do there; on TV, the President seems to be the wrong person in the wrong place; and each night she has disquieting dreams that may or may not be related to her husband Philip's pet project. Philip's decade-long dedication to the causality violation device (which he would greatly prefer you do not call a time machine ) has effectively stalled his career and made him a laughingstock in the physics community. But he may be closer to success than either of them knows or imagines.
In a future world racked by violence and environmental catastrophes, George Orr wakes up one day to discover that his dreams have the ability to alter reality. He seeks help from Dr. William Haber, a psychiatrist who immediately grasps the power George wields. Soon George must preserve reality itself as Dr. Haber becomes adept at manipulating George's dreams for his own purposes. The Lathe of Heaven is an eerily prescient novel that masterfully addresses the dangers of power and humanity's self-destructiveness, questioning the nature of reality itself.
Bob Arctor is a junkie and a drug dealer, both using and selling the mind-altering Substance D. Fred is a law enforcement agent, tasked with bringing Bob down. It sounds like a standard case. The only problem is that Bob and Fred are the same person. Substance D doesn't just alter the mind, it splits it in two, and neither side knows what the other is doing or that it even exists. Now, both sides are growing increasingly paranoid as Bob tries to evade Fred while Fred tries to evade his suspicious bosses. In this award-winning novel, friends can become enemies, good trips can turn terrifying, and cops and criminals are two sides of the same coin. Dick is at turns caustically funny and somberly contemplative, fashioning a novel that is as unnerving as it is 
In this hyperkinetic and relentlessly inventive novel, Japan's most popular (and controversial) fiction writer hurtles into the consciousness of the West. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World draws readers into a narrative particle accelerator in which a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his shockingly undemure granddaughter, Lauren Bacall, Bob Dylan, and various thugs, librarians, and subterranean monsters collide to dazzling effect. What emerges is simultaneously cooler than zero and unaffectedly affecting, a hilariously funny and deeply serious meditation on the nature and uses of the mind.
It's been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything's on the line. With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information operative, the whole situation is a puzzle: how do you keep the wheels running on the biggest political experiment of all time, when so many have so much to gain?
At an obscure South Carolina nursing home, a lost world reemerges as a disabled elderly woman undergoes brain-restoration procedures and begins to explore her environment with the assistance of strap-on robot legs. At a deluxe medical spa on a nameless Caribbean island, a middle-aged woman hopes to revitalize her fading youth with grotesque rejuvenating therapies that combine cutting-edge medical technologies with holistic approaches and the pseudo-religious dogma of Zen-infused self-help. And in a rinky-dink mill town, an adolescent girl is unexpectedly inspired by the ravings and miraculous levitation of her fundamentalist friend's weird grandmother. In these genre-bending stories, teetering between the ridiculous and the sublime, Elliott's language-driven fiction uses outlandish tropes to capture poignant moments in her humble characters' lives.
Ted Chiang presents characters who must confront sudden change - the inevitable rise of automatons or the appearance of aliens - while striving to maintain some sense of normalcy. In the amazing and much-lauded title story, a grieving mother copes with divorce and the death of her daughter by drawing on her knowledge of alien languages and non-linear memory recollection. A clever pastiche of news reports and interviews chronicles a college's initiative to "turn off" the human ability to recognize beauty in "Liking What You See: A Documentary." With sharp intelligence and humor, Chiang examines what it means to be alive in a world marked by uncertainty and constant change, and also by beauty and wonder.
Talking candy bars, baby geniuses, disappointed mothers, castrated dogs, interned teenagers, and moral fables—all in this hilarious and heartbreaking collection from an author hailed as the heir to Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon.

Five Books for True Cubs Fans

A Nice Little Place on the North Side Book CoverToday, it seems like everybody has Cubs fever. After Saturday's win against Los Angeles Dodgers there's no better time for fans to show their spirit. Or maybe read up on the history of your favorite team. Here are some Cubs-related books to keep you occupied between games.
Winding beautifully like Wrigley's iconic ivy, George Will's meditation on "The Friendly Confines" examines both the unforgettable stories that forged Wrigley Field's legend and the larger-than-life characters who brought it glory, heartbreak, and scandal. Drawing upon his trademark knowledge and inimitable sense of humor, Will also explores his childhood connections to the team, the Cubs' future, and what keeps long-suffering fans rooting for the home team after so many years of futility. In the end, A Nice Little Place on the North Side is more than just the history of a ballpark. It is the story of Chicago, of baseball, and of America itself.
In 1906, the baseball world saw something that had never been done. Two teams from the same city squared off against each other in an intracity World Series, pitting the heavily favored Cubs of the National League against the hardscrabble American League champion White Sox. Noted historian Bernard A. Weisberger tells the tale of a unique time in baseball, a unique time in America, and a time when Chicago was at the center of it all.
There is a theory that if the Cubs ever win the World Series, it would upset the delicate balance of the cosmos and bring the apocalypse. With great wit and insight, veteran sports writer and Chicago native Will Wagner chronicles the entire 2004 season from the melting snows of spring through the melting team chemistry of autumn, from soaring hopes to Sulkin' Sammy Sosa. Ever the hopeless Cubs fan himself, Wagner is still philosophical: "Better times are ahead for the cubbies. That's what keeps us going. Next year is only four or five years away."
With 139 years of Chicago Cubs history, this lively, detailed book explores the personalities, events, and facts every Cubs fan should know. More than a look at the century-long wait for another World Series win, the book contains crucial information for Cubs fans, such as important dates, player nicknames, memorable moments, and outstanding achievements by singular players. This guide to all things Cubs also includes a list of must-do Cubs-related activities, which include taking in Wrigley field, traveling to Arizona for spring training, and sipping beers at the best Cubs bars around the country.
Writing with Chicago Tribune sports columnist Bob Verdi, legendary Cubs announcer Harry Caray recaps his decades in the booth, paying special attention to the owners he has dealt with and explaining his philosophy of success in the booth, which is to think of himself primarily as a fan explaining the game to his fellow fans and pointing out players' failures as well as strengths. In this memoir, he recalls players he has admired, beginning with his all-time favorite, Stan Musial, and including Reggie Jackson, Richie Allen, and Ryne Sandberg.