New and popular titles at Juniata County Library


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“The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels” by Jon Meacham

I wrote last week about Thomas Jefferson and his lifelong struggle to live up to his ideals. In “The Soul of America,” Meacham, an esteemed historian and author, chronicles America’s never-ending fight to live up to her ideals. In his first inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln spoke to a divided nation about the “the better angels of our nature.” Lincoln’s words failed to prevent civil war, but they serve as a template for the latest book from Pulitzer Prize author and winner Meacham, who contends that throughout American history, presidential leadership and citizen activism have strived to lift us to higher ground, particularly in relation to civil rights. Meacham provides a sturdy history of this steady but halting progress, primarily through the prism of presidential leadership. Thus, while Ulysses S. Grant effectively cracked down on the Ku Klux Klan, the post-1877 years featured the rise of Jim Crow and a renewed disenfranchisement of black voters. Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House and resisted pressure to remove a black female postmaster in Mississippi, yet he “shared the dream of Anglo-Saxon imperialism” and held “ideas of racial superiority.” Indeed, it was not until the 1960s that President Lyndon Johnson’s relentless advocacy and Martin Luther King Jr.’s courage combined to help secure the civil and voting rights of all Americans. Johnson, however, was part of a forceful Southern Democratic party bloc that opposed civil rights advancements on all fronts and was often seen as a flip-flopping opportunist (see Robert Caro’s books on Johnson for a more in-depth view of this). Clearly, Meacham hopes that the struggles of the past will inspire readers to contend for America’s soul by resisting the modern-day forces of fear and bigotry. You can find this book in the New Adult Nonfiction section.

“Adjustment Day,” by Chuck Palahniuk

Adjustment Day is caustic fantasy about powerless men, power reversals, grassroots revolution and extreme violence. Sounds heavy. Palahniuk has embraced the madness of current events, crafting a dystopian nightmare that takes all the fractures of our modern society and escalates them to a warped climax. The United States is on the brink of war, and millennials are expected to be mowed down by the thousands, a deliberate plan by a crooked Senator to avoid an American Arab Spring. But two new developments emerge. The first is The List, an internet site where anyone can post the names of people they deem a threat to society. The more votes a person gets, the more danger they are in. The second is a revolutionary manifesto by a man named Talbott Reynolds that contains wisdom like “We must kill those who would have us kill one another,” and is advertised with the slogan “A Smile Is Your Best Bulletproof Vest!” And then … Adjustment Day, during which The List’s targets are exterminated, journalists murdered, and a “Declaration of Interdependence” setting new rules is written. Only those who killed are granted rights. They are elevated to the rank of barbaric “chieftains,” their serfs marked by a severed ear. The country is split into divided states: “Blacktopia,” “Gaysia,” and “Caucasia.” “Democracy was a short-lived aberration,” Palahniuk wrote Fight Club (1996) with a strong anarchist tone. Once Palahniuk turns society on its ear, it’s a rich background in which the author can experiment with characters, form, style and an acidic wit that savages social constructs, conspiracies, and norms with abandon. Or, perhaps not. You can find this book in the New Adult Fiction section.


Vince Giordano has been the director of the Juniata County Library since 2015.