February is Black History Month, a time to remember the struggles, accomplishments and contributions of African Americans.
If credit is due to any one person for establishing the "federally recognized celebration," it goes to Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), who founded Negro History Week in 1926.
For a recommended reading list related to Black History Month, we turned to a trusted source. Library Journal is the go-to trade magazine for librarians around the country. It was established in 1876 by appropriately Melvil Dewey, of the Dewey Decimal System fame.
Here's a sampling of its Black History Month reading list of contemporary books, compiled by Library Journal book review editor Barbara Hoffert, a past president of the National Book Critics Circle.
The descriptions of the titles are mine. For more titles, go to www.libraryjournal.com.
"Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 15132008" (Knopf, $50, 880 pages, with 700-plus images): A detailed, provocative account of African Americans' contributions to our culture.
"King Peggy" by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman (Doubleday, $25.95, 352 pages): Bartels was an American secretary when she inherited her late uncle's throne in a small African town. As its first female king, she changed the village and it changed her.
"Anatomy of Injustice" by Raymond Bonner (Knopf, $26.95, 336 pages): The case involved a mentally challenged African American man jailed for murder, and attorney Diana Holt, who devoted 10 years to getting him retried.
"Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance," edited by Steven C. Tracy (University of Illinois Press, $50, 536 pages): The diverse anthology features writers who emerged from the creative "Black Belt" movement of the 1930s-'60s.
"Shaq Uncut" by Shaquille O'Neal (Grand Central, $27.99, 304 pages): The NBA champion and rapper, actor and record producer tells a lot of good stories.
"Assumption" by Percival Everett (Graywolf, $15, 225 pages): A small-town African American deputy uncovers layers of intrigue as he investigates a murder. Everett is an English professor at the University of Southern California and author of 17 other novels.
"All I Did Was Shoot My Man" by Walter Mosley, who appeared for the Bee Book Club in 2010 (Riverhead, $26.95, 336 pages): The fourth entry in the Leonid McGill series finds the ex-fighter-turned-PI up to his neck in family issues and his clients' dysfunctions. Oh, and what about that missing $6.8 million?
Closer to home
In celebration of Black History Month, the Sacramento Public Library will present a variety of culturally oriented programs for all ages at its 28 library locations, throughout February.
Included will be art displays and hands-on arts-and-crafts projects, drumming and dancing, storytelling, genealogy workshops, movies, cooking and recipe-sharing, and much more.
For more information: (916) 264-2920, www.saclibrary.org.
Battle of the quotes
For the fun of it, log on to www.litquotes.com, where literature and quotes meet for an entertaining tête-à-tête that happens to be public.
The site features all kinds of quotes from thousands of novels and hundreds of authors. Find quotes by topic, title and author, and check out the blog.
Here's a sample, compliments of L. Frank Baum and his "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz": " 'All the same,' said the Scarecrow, 'I shall ask for brains instead of a heart; for a fool would not know what to do with a heart if he had one.' "
Most literate U.S. cities
For the ninth year running, Central Connecticut State University has released its list of the 10 "most literate American cities" of 250,000 population and greater.
CCSU president John Walker bases his survey on "six key indicators of literacy: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment and Internet resources." To see past years' lists, go to www.ccsu.edu.
Let's take this year's from the top: Washington, D.C., Seattle, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Boston, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, San Francisco and Denver.
An eclectic sampling
While on the topic of literacy, try this eclectic sampling of recent titles:
"Show Dog" by Josh Dean (It Books, $24.99, 416 pages): Magazine journalist Dean covers the behind-the-scenes world of dog shows, traveling for a year with champion Australian shepherd Jack and his handlers. He found a dog-show subculture not far removed from the satirical movie "Best in Show."
"Charlotte au Chocolat" by Charlotte Silver (Riverhead, $25.95, 272 pages): The author literally grew up in her mother's restaurant, Upstairs at the Pudding. This is a white truffle of a memoir.
"A Miscellany of Murder," edited by mystery-writing members of the Monday Murder Club (Adams Media, $14.95, 256 pages): The subject is grim, but the contents are all in fun.
Topics include trivia and anecdotes, references to movies and TV shows, forensics, weaponry, dubious characters and a telling of "the most puzzling unsolved mysteries." Try this quote from director Alfred Hitchcock: "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it."
Two titles from Arcadia continue its series that examines the pasts of American towns, cities and areas through vintage photographs and text blocks ($21.99):
"Breweries of the Gold Country" by R. Scott Baxter and Kimberly J. Wooten (128 pages): Great photos of old breweries, bars, beer bottles and beer ads and the tipplers who helped turn beer-drinking into a thriving industry.
"Stockton" by Daniel Kasser and Amanda Zimmerman (96 pages): The city grew from an encampment in the midst of tidal sloughs to become California's 13th-largest city and a key port.
"The Hunger Pains" by the editors of the Harvard Lampoon (Touchstone, $13.99, 176 pages): Some context: Suzanne Collins wrote the wildly popular "The Hunger Games" sci-fi trilogy, about a fight-to-the-death TV show set in a futuristic dystopian society. "The Hunger Games" movie hits theaters March 23. Meanwhile, the 135-year-old Lampoon humor magazine has its own twisted version of the book, written by Harvard undergrads.