This week, our choices are:
Below the Edge of Darkness: A Memoir of Exploring Light in the Deep Sea by Edith Widder Ph.D., Random House
Collecting fireflies in mason jars is a rite of passage when we are young, watching the magical glow of their bodies, sending out a light we, as children, do not fully understand, but are mesmerized by. Bioluminescence is found in nature in many different capacities, including the darkness of the ocean that creates orchestras of light within the depths of the water. In her new memoir, renowned marine biologist and oceanographer Edith Widder, PH. D, known for her research on bioluminescence, shares the experiences she had that lead her to become one of the leading scientists in her field. She guides us through how she became enamored with the whimsical light that nature sends out to those of us that have acquired eyes throughout evolution to enjoy or stare in awe. At one time she was blinded, due to a traumatic surgery which resulted in an infection and the determination to live and work even harder to obtain her goals. Widder knows all too well the importance and the wonders of sight.
To look at the surface of the ocean without knowing the sparkling web of life that is woven through its depths is to be blind to its wonders and the part it plays in making our existence possible.
The deep-rooted science nerd within me was enthralled by every description of Widder’s research, finding bioluminescence within the dark depths of the ocean, and her research on giant squid (yes, the kraken!) which is as terrifying as it is fascinating as she recounts her experience on the sea.
For some marine biologists who have spent their careers hunting it with Ahab’s fervor, the opportunity to be the first to see the world’s most famous invertebrate in its natural habitat was the goal of a lifetime. For others, like me, it was merely a highly improbable fantasy.
It is amazing how in complete darkness light is used by these wonderful otherworldly creatures to communicate and interact with the world and shows us how much we need to protect our oceans and the creatures it holds.
Inspirational, deeply moving and with such a powerful subject and incredible life, this memoir is a call to action but shows how one woman, through setbacks that would have deterred others, hard work and perseverance became prominent in her field studying the once mysterious glowing light of the ocean. (EPP)
The Essential Kerner Commission Report edited by Jelani Cobb with Matthew Guariglia, Liveright
The Kerner Commission was created by President Lyndon B. Johnson in July 1967 to study the urban uprisings that had occurred over the previous three years in cities across America—why they occurred, who was involved, and what could be done to prevent them in the future. The bipartisan Commission, consisting of an equal number of elected Republicans and Democrats, issued its report in March of the following year, finding that (in a nutshell) they were caused by a chain of “discrimination, prejudice, disadvantaged conditions, intense and pervasive grievances, [and] a series of tension-heightening incidents.” It is a chain that has added many more links since then. As Jelani Cobb reminds us in his introduction to this new edition of Kerner, “Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated the following month, and more than one hundred American cities exploded into just the type of violence that the Kerner Commission had sought to understand if not prevent.” And then, just last year, in the middle of a global pandemic, after video of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police in Minneapolis were unveiled across our many screens, protests erupted in all fifty states and across the world. As Cobb writes:
We hear George Santayana’s dictum that “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” quoted with eye-rolling frequency. But Kerner establishes that it is possible for us to be entirely cognizant of history and repeat it.
And so, there is one line from the report that sticks out to me as strikingly relevant as we look at the developments in our country today:
To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.
In addition to that sentiment, the Kerner Commission’s many recommendations are still relevant today, which is unfortunate in that it has been over 50 years since it was issued. Had they been heeded before now, perhaps we would live in a more peaceful and prosperous nation. But it also means that the suggestions and remedies the report offers are still there, ready to be utilized. Jelani Cobb has done a great service by bringing it back into the conversation with this new edition. (DJJS)
A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes: A Son's Memoir of Gabriel García Márquez and Mercedes Barcha by Rodrigo García, HarperVia
Metadata Description: A thoughtful memoir from filmmaker Rodrigo García is about processing and learning how to deal with the fame, aging, and death of his father, Gabriel García Márquez.
Whether you're an avid Gabriel García Márquez fan or just enjoy well-written biographies and memoirs, you’ll enjoy A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes. This thoughtful memoir from his son, filmmaker Rodrigo García's point of view is about processing and learning how to deal with fame, aging, and death. In short chapters–almost diary entries, as they are written in the present-tense and some are no more than a paragraph long–García gives readers glimpses at his and his family's lives navigating García Márquez's dementia, terminal illness diagnosis, and dying process.
García doesn't shy from the harshness of life, and instead, shows that acknowledging and examining the difficulties sometimes reveals realizations, even if it takes a while:
I didn't realize until well into my forties that my decision to live and work in Los Angeles and in English was a deliberate, if unconscious, choice to make my own way beyond the sphere of influence of my father's success.
García struggles with mixed emotions when it comes to his father and telling their story, but this inconclusiveness is a natural part of life, and it seems the benefits outweigh the consequences, especially when both his parents have passed away. I'm inspired by García's book as an outlet for grief. Through sharing stories and photos of the late Gabo and Mercedes in this short book, García gives them renewed life in the minds of readers, old and new. While García Márquez may best be remembered through his masterful works as an author, I think this book also proves that the author's support system—his family—are just as important and beautiful of a legacy. (GMC)
Finding Your Treasure: Our Family's Mission to Recycle, Reuse, and Give Back Everything--And How You Can Too by Angel Williams, Tiller Press
I've reviewed a lot of books based off podcasts in the past few months, which has led me to listen to many self-help, business, and science podcasts, so I'm pretty happy for this new book to guide me back into the audio-visual entertainment world of YouTube. In this corner of the Internet, we explore: dumpster diving, persevering through illness, finding faith, the importance of all forms of family, and fighting against American consumerism!
Author Angel Williams asserts "I also owe my dumpster-diving success to the Israel of God," the church her family belongs to, but it's more than a religious belief that guides her actions. She is committed to sharing wealth with others by donating useful items, living a more sustainable life, and inspiring others to join her in this journey.
Williams and her family live in Chicago, and as a fellow Midwesterner, I relate to their frugality. Even though this area of the country is quite affordable, I know a lot of people here who are always on the lookout for a good deal, and Finding Your Treasure provides some great tips for finding value in unlikely places (dumpsters) and recognizing value in yourself! It's a heartwarming story, part memoir and part guidebook with great tips and resources for novice dumpster divers and eBay sellers as well as those interested in becoming more connected to their families and communities. (GMC)