Book Review: I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

Book Review: I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

Poetry: I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

Local (State College, PA) poet Sarah Russell has given us a collection of poems that are heartfelt and moving. I lost summer somewhere is poignant, elegant, and sometimes emotionally raw. Reading it drew me into a world of love and loss, of new love found, of letting go of an aging parent piece by piece, of being with someone at their most vulnerable point, of watching granddaughters grow into a world we could never have imagined. At times it was a nerve-wracking white-knuckled journey through life. But it is hard to find someone relate that journey with the grace, beauty, and dignity that Russell achieves.


Anyone who has ever been in love can both relate to and laugh with her poem, “If I Had Three Lives.” She starts,

“If I had three lives, I’d marry you in two.”

This humorous look at love then goes on to imagine her life where she did not marry him: writing, reading lots of books, vacationing in Maine, practicing yoga…and then admitting,

“And I’d wonder sometimes / if I’d ever find you.”

This quirky love poem acknowledges that marriage has changed her in ways that might not always meet her ideal (“I’d be thinner in that life, vegan”), but in two of three lives she would choose him and in the third life she’d long for him. Honestly, that’s more than a lot of us get!


The titular poem is a metaphor for aging. The poet realizes that she has entered a stage of life when geese have abandoned their nests and wildflowers have finished their blooms. I love how she says to the geese as they leave,

“I’ll stay here, I tell them, I’ll air out / cedared cardigans. chop carrots / for the soup tonight, cross / the threshold of the equinox, / try not to stumble.”

Any of us watching the years spin by faster and faster can appreciate both the sense of loss and the acceptance of our future, whatever that may be.


Although the poems offer much to every reader, I believe that women would especially appreciate Russell’s perspectives. She writes as the wife who watches a marriage crumble, as the mother there with a daughter making a difficult choice and living with that, as the grandmother advising her middle-school granddaughter. Sometimes, like in Learning to Play Baseball, she is the bemused woman struggling to communicate with a man. She is the woman watching herself age, falling in love again, appreciating new seasons of life.


That being said, this book is not “for” women or men. It is for anyone who loves language, who loves poetry, for anyone who has loved and anyone who is watching an aging parent decline, for anyone who has enjoyed an “Indian Summer” of life and found a second love and held a child. Sarah Russell’s poems are beautiful and passionate, and I lost summer somewhere is a special collection.


I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

Book Review: I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

Book Review: Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly

Book Review: Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly

Nonfiction Biography: Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly

When America entered World War II, it did so with an aviation industry that was only the seventeenth largest industry in the US. Before the end of the war, US aviation was the largest industry in the world. Some of the credit for this increase in industrial capacity, particularly for the improvements in technology that changed the way aircraft was built and that made American planes faster and safer, belongs to the engineers, mathematicians, and “computers” (a job title which was then held largely by women) who worked at Langley, VA during that time. And among those brilliant people in segregated Virginia were a number of African American women whose stories are celebrated in the book Hidden Figures.


Margot Lee Shetterly has compiled their stories with detail and affection. She tells of women who grew up in the heart of a racist and sexist society and defied all the odds to get jobs as “computers” after racial discrimination was formally ended in federal government hiring in 1941 (obviously the formal end did not change everything overnight, but it did create new opportunities). Women like Dorothy Vaughan, who became the manager for the “West Computers” and shepherded the careers of many other women, perhaps at the expense of her own career. Women like Katherine Johnson, whose work was finally acknowledged by a Presidential Medal of Honor in 2012. Katherine Johnson’s work was instrumental in both the Mercury and Apollo space missions.


Their very presence and the high standards of their work gave the lie to the segregationists and those who asserted that blacks and women were somehow less capable than white men. More than just their presence, though, these women fought discrimination on a personal level. Miriam Mann used to take the signs from the cafeteria that labeled a specific table for “colored girls.” For awhile the signs would be replaced, but eventually they were gone for good. Through their collective insistence on excellence and accuracy and their tireless advocacy for each other, these women created new opportunities for themselves and for others. They refused to allow others to define them. In a world where blacks could not stay in hotels, could not eat in diners, could not attend school with whites, could not even be in some towns after sundown, these women pried open doors that had been closed to all but white men and proved that they belonged.


Shetterly’s writing is warm and brimming with love for her subject. She grew up in the Langley area and knew some of these women when she was a child. That affection gives a tenderness to her prose, but does not detract from the detail and research that informs it. I love the way she presents these women as full people. She gives details about their families, their interests, their churches, their sororities, and all the things that made them complete as humans. Spouses and children may not have plotted trajectories or measured air resistance, but they mattered to the “hidden figures” and so they matter to their story.


Hidden Figures is a book of hope and triumph. The challenges faced by the African American women who worked in Langley during the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s were such that people of lesser character might have folded. The fact that they not only persevered but forced their way into the history books is a credit to their determination, their talent, and their will. Shetterly has given us their stories as a road map to the destinies that character and hard work can win.

Also see the Hidden Figures:  2017 movie, young readers edition, and picture book edition.

Book Review: Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly

Booklist:  10 Books for a Reading Roadtrip Across America

Booklist:  10 Books for a Reading Roadtrip Across America has been proudly international from the beginning, intentionally seeking books and authors from around the world. But we are based in the United States. Given that our country celebrates her birthday on July 4th, we decided to highlight some books that we have reviewed that are American in focus. 


There There, Tommy Orange

Possibly the most powerful book we’ve read for Scintilla is There There by Tommy Orange. There are a lot of reasons to choose this book, but in this context our main reason is its setting. Oakland is almost an additional character within the book, a side of Oakland perhaps not obvious to tourists but rather one that locals would recognize. The characters and the powwow might be fictional, but the city is real and vibrant and essential to the story. Orange makes good use of the quote that inspired the title and shows that Oakland indeed has a there there.


Hellbent, Gregg Hurwitz Out of the Dark, Orphan X series, Book 4, Gregg Hurwitz

Moving down the coast, pick one of Greg Hurwitz Orphan X books which are primarily set in Los Angeles. Although protagonist Evan Smoak does travel around the country, he is based in LA and much of the action takes place in the US’s second largest city. Using actual neighborhoods and streets gives the settings a strong realism. The only thing hotter than the summer temperatures is the story when Smoak goes into action.


The Library Book, Susan Orlean

And for some reality in your LA story, The Library Book by Susan Orlean tells the story of the LA library in a way that reads more like a novel than a history. The people and the city that the library serves are well represented, as are the characters who came to lead the library throughout its history. A fun and enlightening read.


Long Road to Mercy, David Baldacci

Although many of David Baldacci’s books are set in Washington, DC, his recent book A Long Road to Mercy puts FBI agent Atlee Pine into a small town near the Four Corners region of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The landscapes and distances are almost characters themselves in this novel with a kickass heroine and a typically complex Baldacci plot.


Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward

Mississippi is the setting for both of Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award winning novels: Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing. Her evocation of the heat and humidity can make you sweat on a winter’s day in Pennsylvania, and I say this from personal experience.


Florida, Lauren Groff

Florida by Lauren Groff takes us across the country to our 27th state, the southernmost of the 48 contiguous states. Filled with unique characters and individual stories, the state figures into every story of this book that bears its name.


The Tenth Justice, Brad Meltzer The Hellfire Club, Jake Tapper

Brad Meltzer’s first novel, The Tenth Justice, and Jake Tapper’s novel The Hellfire Club are both set in Washington, DC, roughly 50 years apart. Both are thrillers with intrigue, political skulduggery, and real and potential violence. If you want to escape the current political news cycle, these are two options that keep you in the Beltway without once mentioning any actual living politicians.


Invisible, Stephen L. Carter

And finally, NYC is home to millions of people and almost as many stories, but Invisible by Stephen L. Carter is a true story of his grandmother and her battles against the mob in the 1930s. A lawyer under the famed Thomas Dewey, Carter’s grandmother tackled prejudice and gangsters using her intellect and the law.


Obviously there is a lot more country we could have visited…so let us know if you enjoyed this brief tour and maybe we will travel to some more places next July!


Booklist:  10 Books for a Reading Roadtrip Across America