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Double Review & Giveaway — The Genius Under the Table & Picturing a Nation

Thought for the Day:

“Do you want to do this thing? Sit down and do it. Are you not writing? Keep sitting there. Does it not feel right? Keep sitting there. Think of yourself as a monk walking the path to enlightenment. Think of yourself as a high school senior wanting to be a neurosurgeon. Is it possible? Yes. Is there some shortcut? Not one I’ve found. Writing is a miserable, awful business. Stay with it. It is better than anything in the world.”
~ Ann Patchett ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:

The Writer has an excellent article HERE by Jack Smith with Pro Tips for Avoiding Clichéd Characters in Fiction.

We know we need to have protagonists and antagonists, but how often do we think about vulnerable characters? Steven Pressfield has a great post on that topic HERE. The comments are worth a read, too.

Need to cut your words? Who doesn’t? Kathy Steinemann has another great post HERE about slashing word counts. I think I posted one of hers earlier, but each one is worth looking at.

I have a real penchant for police procedurals. It is my guilty pleasure. If I am going to spend significant time watching TV (besides sports) it will probably be spent with police procedurals, particularly British ones. One of my favorites the last few years has been The Unforgotten on Masterpiece Mystery. When this season’s episodes started, I watched the first one, and realized that with the pandemic year forcing a lot of shows to skip a season, it had been so long, I couldn’t really remember enough to know all that was going on. I was able to get the DVDs for the last season, season 5, and re-watch it. So I saved up all the episodes from this season to watch at once. I stayed up waaaayy too late last night watching the whole season. It really is a great way to watch a show like this. And what a great show. If you are a fan of this kind of show, I really recommend it. My daughter tells me you can watch seasons 1-4 on Prime. The other two seasons will probably be on there soon, or check your local library.

I receive quite a few books from Candlewick Press for review, and today I am going to tell you about two of them, and I am going to give both of them away, because I am a kind and generous person. Also because I am so buried in books that I really have to start getting some of them out of my house! They are both non-fiction and couldn’t be more different from each other. They are The Genius Under the Table: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain by Eugene Yelchin. The other is Picturing a Nation: The Great Depression’s Finest Photographers Introduce America to Itself by Martin W. Sandler. Both will be coming out in October.

A few years ago, I enjoyed reading Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin, so when I saw he had a new book, The Genius Under the Table, about his childhood due to be published, I was pretty interested in reading it. I think it’s always important for our young people to learn about how others live around the world. Even though the USSR no longer exists, there is little doubt things haven’t changed completely in Russia, and there are other countries that are under authoritarian regimes that leave people living in conditions similar to those of Eugene, a young Jewish boy in the USSR. He tells the tale of his family, including his parents, an older brother, and his grandmother living in a tiny apartment. The apartment is one room, and they have to share a kitchen and bathroom with all the other people on their floor. The people share the cleaning chores for those two rooms, but not everyone does a good job, so things can get pretty disgusting. In their little apartment, every night at bed time, they have to move the furniture around to make room for everyone to sleep. Eugene’s parents sleep on a day bed, Grandmother sleeps on a couch, Brother sleeps on three dining-room chairs, and Eugene sleeps under the table. Each night, he “borrows” his father’s pencil so he can practice his art, drawing on the underside of the table. We get a good picture of life beyond the abysmal living conditions to the bullying and discrimination Jews have to live with and how hard it is to survive in such a society. This is a funny, irreverent look at Soviet communist society, but underlying it all is a deep undercurrent of naked truth. This will be a real eye-opener for young people.

I have long been a fan of great photography by Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks, but I never realized they, and several other prominent photographers, got their start in one of the many programs run by the government during the Great Depression. I also didn’t realize that color photography, through the development of Kodachrome by Kodak, became widely available and used in 1935. I thought it was much later than that. The program for photography was started in the Resettlement Administration that later became the Farm Security Administration. The head of the RA/FSA, Rex Tugwell, created a Historical Section that hired several photographers to record how the agency helped farmers. Roy Stryker was appointed to head the effort up. He sent the photographers out all over the country with the stated goal of taking photos that showed the agency helping farmers, but that grew into an effort to make an historical photographic record of the human condition all across America during the Great Depression. Some of the photos in this great compendium are so familiar, but so many are totally new to me. The story of how these photos came about and the stories of the photos themselves written by Martin W. Sandler in Picturing a Nation: The Great Depression’s Finest Photographers Introduce America to Itself are simply fascinating. While the final book will be all in color, the ARC I have to offer is black and white. I can’t wait the see the final book, but the ARC is quite satisfying. This is a terrific book.

I am offering an ARC of each of these two wonderful books in a drawing. If you want to win, please tell me in your comment which book interests you. I will put your name in a drawing for that book. If you are interested in both, you will need to share the link to my blog through social media to be in both drawings. That will get you the extra chance you need. Or you can share the link to get extra chances for the drawing for the one book you are interested in. Make sure you tell me in your comment that you have shared my link. You do need to be a follower or subscriber (it’s free!) and have a U.S. address. I hope that is all clear. And don’t forget to check for other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at the Greg Pattridge’s blog HERE.

22 thoughts on “Double Review & Giveaway — The Genius Under the Table & Picturing a Nation”

  1. Great reviews as usual. How I would love that book of Depression photographs for Rajan, particularly since you say in this ARC copy they are black-and-white. But, of course, with a Portugal address, no go. I also enjoyed Steven Pressfield’s post on vulnerable characters. And you were so right: the comments were as interesting as the post.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for the links. I found the list of 130 cliches and idioms very useful.
    These two nonfiction selections will appeal to a wide range of readers. Russia is always a favorite setting in books for me and I’m also into photography. Alas, I will haver to pass on the giveaway. Like you I am getting over run with books in my house. My to read pile is now almost 2 feet tall!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I enjoyed reading your review of both books. I do have an advanced reading copy of Genius Under the Table, so I will pass. I really look forward to reading it now — forgot it was about Russia. And, I love learning about the country — all periods of history. Also enjoy the photography of Dorothea Lange. Like you, I thought colored film came out much later. Excellent reviews!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Both of these books sound fascinating! I haven’t read any of Yelchin’s books, but I have heard good things about them. And Picturing a Nation sounds great as well—I hadn’t heard of that program, but it’s a good thing that people worked to capture what that time period was like for posterity. I’ll have to pass on the giveaway because I am also buried in books and can’t afford to let more into my house, but thanks for the generous offer!

    I love the quote and meme! And I have a relative who loves British mysteries and police shows—I’ll mention The Unforgotten to them, especially since most of it is on Prime (although if they have already seen it, it wouldn’t surprise me—they are well-versed in that genre!). Thanks so much for the wonderful post!

    Liked by 2 people

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