5 Recommended Reads for February

By Rob Levy
In Culture

The second month of the year brings even more great books that offer something for everyone from the serious to the sublime.

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski/ StockSnao

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski/ StockSnao

 1/ “The Big Bad Book Of Bill Murray
Robert Schnakenberg, Quirk Books

It’s an election year, which means everywhere you go there’s an overload of rhetoric. However the one thing that everyone can get on board for is that Bill Murray is an American Treasure. With “The Big Bad Book Of Bill Murray” fans of all ages are treated to an encyclopedic examination of the actor, his roles, his co-stars and his odd antics.

From “Gung Ho to Garfield,” “Grand Budapest Hotel” to “Ghostbusters” author Robert Schnakenberg gives us a great overview of his career while also getting pretty deep into the actor’s life off-screen. He also features short bios on his family, friends and major influences, providing us with a light overview of what makes him tick and why he remains relevant.

 

2/ “Legendary Locals Of St. Charles
Don and Dianna Graveman, Arcadia Publishing and The History Press

Despite being our next-door neighbor, many St. Louisans aren’t familiar with the history of St. Charles. Now, thanks to Don and Dianna Graveman’s “Legendary Locals Of St. Charles,” the region’s prolific past is chronicled through biographies of more than 100 famous residents and prominent visitors to the city.

This rich legacy includes Lewis and Clark, who began their expedition West there; St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, who founded the first school West of the Mississippi; and the abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy along with lesser-known prominent explorers, military leaders, businessmen, educators and entertainers.

The authors form a formidable tandem whose passion for the subject material abounds. Don Graveman, a former St. Charles County Historical Society board member, and his wife, Dianna, an editor and author herself, give their subject matter a deal of heft via their knowledge about St. Charles while simultaneously rescuing many of the folks they profile from obscurity.

Thus the fruits of their labor offer readers an informative survey that is compelling without becoming bogged down with the superfluous. A great read for those interested in regional history. 

 

3/ “Love Poems
Bertholt Brecht, Liveright

Released in the US late last year, this collection of poetry from the prodigious German playwright, stage director, essayist, philosopher and poet is perfect reading for Valentine’s Day. Culled from more than 2000 of his poems, translators Tom Kuhn and David Constantine have compiled a concise collection of 78 of his most erotic works, which give the reader a fresh perspective on his matters of the heart.

This first volume in a series of Brecht poetry collections highlights a more private and personal facet of his work. His poems, both passionate and mischievous, eschew his more political writings in favor of a pure and unadulterated lust and desire, which deepens his literacy legacy by highlighting this often, overlooked aspect of his compositions.

This anthology adds an interesting new emotional layer to Brecht, a Marxist who was not exactly renown for being warm and fuzzy. His romantic poems show a depth and fragility that are not always found in his verse or theatrics, allowing us to see him in a totally new context.

 

4/ “Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X
Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith, Basic Books

“Blood Brothers” is a terrific read about how the lives of the heavyweight champ and the controversial social activist became entangled in the early 1960s. Collectively they put Civil Rights on the front pages (each in their own respective manner) with a swagger and bravado that oftentimes intimidated the status quo while inspiring others.

Smith and Roberts delve deeply into their involvement in the Nation of Islam, their common experiences and eventually their mutual fear of retribution from the powerful Elijah Muhammad. They also point out that both men were larger-than-life figures who wielded a great deal of power through their words and deeds.

They were unrelenting in exposing the ugliness of prejudice and injustice. Their timing was perfect. Both Malcolm and Ali were charismatic masters of eloquence who parlayed their individual forums into opportunities to call attention to their causes. Whereas Malcolm had a flair for manipulating situations and opportunities to his advantage, Ali’s ascension came at a time when sportspersons were beginning to be seen nationally as superstars rather than athletes.

This historical account of how these two men of different worlds: politics and sports forged a friendship and then suffered an epic fallout amidst the tumult of their times is utterly compelling and essential reading at a time when race in America is still affecting our national psyche.

 

5/ “The Health Gap: The Challenge of An Unequal World”
Michael Marmot, Bloomsbury

It seems like every time you turn around the subject of healthcare remains a contentious topic in mainstream media. However, as reflected by Michael Marmot in his exhaustively researched new book, “The Health Gap,” he dives in headfirst exploring both the medical and socio-economic causes for this problem. At the root of his thesis is a belief that the quality of one’s health is directly correlated to whether or not someone comes from a low or high social strata.

To him, this disparity can be overcome by installing environments whereby individuals are empowered to have control over their own healthcare. Subsequently, he also believes that withholding the mechanisms for this implementation is unjust.

Using a plethora of hard data as a supporting lynchpin for his ideology, Marmot steadfastly argues that the issue of wellness equality is a global problem that is not easily solved with a quick fix.

Rob Levy is a freelance writer who works at a local library. Each month he recommends five books for ALIVE Magazine readers.

To see what we’re reading, visit ALIVE on Good Reads. 

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