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Out & About

Book Nook

Immersive reads into the American experience

Kane County Magazine

July is one of my favorite months. For me, this time of year means warm, sunny weather, trips to the beach (blasting the air conditioning indoors!), and, of course, the promise of Independence Day gatherings. 

In keeping things patriotic this month, check out one of these America-inspired reads:

‘Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race’
By Margot Lee Shetterly

What’s more American than the Space Race? Margot Lee Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures” tells the story of the African American women who worked as “computers,” employees of NASA who calculated the advanced equations used by the aeronautical engineers. Don’t be content to just see the movie – the book version takes you even deeper into the personal lives of the women it chronicles, as well as the historical events that led to the Space Race. 

Shetterly takes the women’s stories a step further by linking their technological and civil rights advances to the impact they have in the present. Insightful and empowering, “Hidden Figures” is a great read to immerse yourself in American history, ingenuity and triumph over adversity.

‘No One Is Coming to Save Us’
By Stephanie Powell Watts  

One of the great American novels, “The Great Gatsby,” is re-told in the present-day South in “No One Is Coming to Save Us” by Stephanie Powell Watts. The setting, characters and tone of this modern reboot are unique enough (and compelling enough) that this book is a worthy read on its own – you don’t need to know Fitzgerald’s classic to appreciate Watts’s novel. 

Instead of Jay Gatsby, this novel has Jay “JJ” Ferguson, who returns to rural Pineville, North Carolina, to reconnect with Ava, the answer to Daisy Buchanan. 

While the story is set in the present, the book spends so much time in the minds and memories of the residents of its small-town setting that if you edit out the occasional mention of a computer or contemporary politician, it could ostensibly be set decades ago. 

As Watts weaves the story around Ava and her close-knit family, it doesn’t feel like random family members’ stories have been patched together – “No One Is Coming to Save Us” feels like one cohesive tale filled with equal parts regret and resigned acceptance. 

Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America’
By Ranya Tabari Idliby

Ranya Tabari Idliby is an American: her son plays baseball, her family celebrates Thanksgiving, and, when she was a child, her mother would cook her American dishes. Idliby, however, is not just any American – she’s a Muslim American – and she discusses the relationship between these two identities in “Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie.” 

Reflecting on the wide range of media coverage of Islam after 9/11, the teachings of classical and contemporary Muslim scholars and the (mostly) well-meaning questions of friends and neighbors, Idliby shows that part of what’s great about being an American is that she can be proud to be Muslim and American at the same time. 

Tackling the controversial issues of religion and politics with grace, humor and heart, “Burqas” is a great read about the American experience. 

Allison Manley was born in Georgia and raised in Island Lake. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in creative writing. She loves opera, craft beer, and (of course!) reading.

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