Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park

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O.J.: Made in America (2016)

oj made in americaSo I’m an NPR junkie. A few weeks ago I was listening to Code Switch and heard them discussing the new documentary OJ: Made in America. They made it sound so compelling that I immediately checked it out from the library, and I was not disappointed.

Ezra Edelman, the director, manages to create a culturally relevant and interesting new perspective on this well-known, high profile case.

I was only five when O.J. Simpson was being tried for the murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman and therefore missed all the politics and controversy that surrounded the case. While all the case details were new to me, I was struck by how little U.S. race relations have changed in the past twenty years. With all the recent coverage of the violence that is occurring in streets across America, this documentary could not be more timely. The documentary itself is almost eight hours long but I found it difficult to look away or really do anything productive until it was over. Made in America has in-person interviews with some of O.J.’s old friends, police officers involved with the case, members of the jury, and some of the attorneys who argued the case. It was shocking to hear some of their testimony and the how this case forever changed their lives. 

Edelman does a stellar job biographing Simpson’s rise to fame and his fall from grace. Whether you believe he was innocent or guilty this documentary offers some serious insight. I recommend this title to those interested in true crime, popular culture, race relations, and history. Almost everyone knows the story but you should definitely watch for the details and cultural relevance.

Check the PPLC Catalog for O.J.: Made in America.

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Teenage (2013)

Teenage PosterBefore the twentieth century, teenagers did not exist. Children were sent into warehouses and fields to earn money for their families long before the children of today would go to middle school. Childhood and adulthood followed each other immediately, forcing children to become adults before their minds and bodies were prepared to do so. With the advent of child labor laws, kids were returned to school and given free time. This documentary explores what happened when these new teenagers were released on society and the political and cultural changes they brought with them.

Director Matt Wolf employs actual footage, diary entries, and memoirs to narrate the tale of adolescence. Following the Flappers, Nazi Youth, Bright Young Things, and the Swing Kings across America and Europe, Wolf captures the majority of teenage existence from 1900 to 1945. The film footage was mostly shot by teens themselves and captured their risqué behavior (risqué for the time, anyway) that would mold popular culture. Teens like Brenda Dean Paul and Tommie Scheel, whose impact on youth culture stretches from pre-depression era Britain to Germany in the middle of World War II are researched in detail and made a focus of the film. I recommend this film to anyone who has an interest in history, youth culture, politics, and/or film history.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Teenage.

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A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Water.  In Pinellas County, water is everywhere.  For six months of the year, we get thunderstorms almost every day.  So water is no big deal here.  It is a luxury we take for granted.

An abundance of water is not the reality in much of the world, though.  Even in places where there are copious amounts of rain and streams and lakes, SAFE, CLEAN drinking water can be hard to come by.  For people who live in water-deprived areas, the search for water defines their lives.  This water-driven life is the theme of the book A Long Walk to Water.

The book chronicles the parallel stories of two young people, Nya and Salva, who grow up in war-torn, water-needy Southern Sudan.  The author, Linda Sue Park, skillfully describes the harsh conditions under which they fight to survive.  She weaves the narrative in an easy to read, yet engaging way that keeps the interest of all ages until she arrives at the very satisfying conclusion.

There are two things which, in my opinion, make the story even more compelling.  First, is that it is based on actual events.  The back dust-jacket of the book shows a picture of the author with the real-life Salva. This honest-to-goodness story is all the more special to me because my children and I have lived its reality.  Five of my children were born and orphaned in Uganda, Africa; the country directly south of Sudan.  The adoption process required me and my wife to live in Uganda for 3 months.  We have watched the village children carry the large, yellow, plastic water containers to the stream.  We have walked the dusty roads and felt the blistering African sun beating down on us.  So I can attest to the harsh reality of this story – a harsh reality that makes the ending so much more remarkable.

Which brings us to the second thing that makes the story compelling. The story demonstrates that even one person can make a difference in a world that is all too often cruel and indifferent.  Salva overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles to change his world and Nya’s world, too.  If Salva can do it, so can each and every one of us. I strongly encourage you to check out this book and read it.  It won’t take you too long to read – the book is short.  But the amazing story will make you glad you did.

Check the PPLC Catalog for A Long Walk to Water.