Three Good Reads and One Other

1969 - The Year Everything Changed by Rob Kirkpatrick
This title interested me because it was the year of my high school graduation and for me it was indeed the year many things changed. Besides that, it was the last year of the sixties and by anyone's reckoning it had been one wild ride of a decade. I lived in a small city in the Canadian maritime provinces, but even here the cold war, the civil rights protests, the Viet Nam war, the proliferation of recreational drugs, the sexual revolution, and what was then called Women's Lib all had an impact on our lives. The Year Everything Changed brings together the major developments of the sixties and explores the consequences of that decade's cultural shifts. More than just a review of events, it explores the thinking and attitudes that shaped that turbulent time. It was fascinating. 

Brain Wave by Poul Anderson
This is an older (1959) science fiction novel that examines what might happen if the world was suddenly smarter. What if the earth had for centuries been moving within some kind of cosmic field affecting our physiology in such a way that natural intelligence was suppressed, but then it moved out of that field allowing the intelligence of all sentient creatures to dramatically increase? How would that effect society, governments, economies? What happens when no one wants to do the menial jobs anymore? Or when farm animals are no longer content to be led to slaughter? It's a big, fascinating idea, well and sometimes beautifully written, and a solidly entertaining read. 

The Auerback Will by Stephen Birmingham
Reviewers of this three-generation family saga called it "delicious, juicy" "compelling" and "unforgettable". It wasn't my idea of delicious nor did I find it all that compelling. Still I did finish it so I'll give them that. As far as being unforgettable, a month after I read it I'd forgotten 95% of it, and my memory is usually not that bad. Even after reading a couple of online summaries, I can't recall much of the story, just a detail or two about family members. It simply didn't, as Shania Twain so eloquently sang it, "impress me much." 

The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks
Newt Winger, a 12 year old boy growing up in 1920's Kansas, is blessed with strong, loving parents to teach him right from wrong. But to thrive in a world of racial inequality, injustice, and often violent hatred he will have to make his own choices about what kind of man he wants to become. 

Vivid and uncompromising in showing us the harsh realities of Newt's life, this book at times is not easy to read, but there is much in it that is beautiful alongside it's grittier aspects. His mother, Sarah, speaks some of the most wonderful lines in the book, wisdom so simple and profound I wrote it down to keep. If you're considering this for your child, know that there is lots of rough language and a sex scene that may not be salacious but will require explaining. Then again, the whole idea of one race being treated as inferior to another is going to need a lot more explaining. Apparently it's been part of grade 5 school curriculums in the past, but I couldn't recommend it for a child that young. 

It has its flaws. There are a couple of  scenes that don't seem to have any real purpose, and one or two loose ends are left dangling, but it's the story and its message that are important in this one and they aren't diminished by weak spots in the writing. I think it's an important book, all the more impactful because much of it comes from the author's own life experiences. It's not one I'll soon forget.