Each week as part of SunLit — The Sun’s literary column — we feature staff recommendations from bookstores across Colorado. This week, the staff at Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins recommends a story of self-improvement, a native mystery, and a biography of George Washington Carver.
The secret of superhuman strength
Per Alison Bechdel
From the publisher: Comics and culture superstar Alison Bechdel delivers a deeply layered account of her fascination, from childhood to adulthood, with all the fitness crazes: from Jack LaLanne in the ’60s (“Fantastic overalls! Guns the size of melons!”) to the existential oddity of today’s spin classes. Readers will see their athletic or semi-active past flash before their eyes through an ever-evolving array of running shoes, bikes, skis and other gear.
But the more Bechdel tries to improve, the more she seems to bother her. She turns for enlightenment to Eastern philosophers and literary figures, including Beat writer Jack Kerouac, whose quest for self-transcendence in nature appears in a moving conversation with the author’s. This gifted artist and practitioner who never gets younger comes to a profound conclusion. The secret to superhuman strength lies not in six-pack abs, but in something much less clearly defined: facing one’s own non-transcendent but extremely important interdependence with others.
From Dany, the bookseller: When it gets cold, the last thing a book lover wants to do is run. I mean, it’s basically a cliché that we all curl up with our books and a cup of tea the moment the temperature drops below 60. In her autobiographical graphic novel, Alison Bechdel turns our comfortable clique on its head and shows that really the most literary thing to do is suffer outside in the cold, exercising!
Bechdel takes us through the waves of exercise trends she’s witnessed firsthand: the first runners in the 70s, the emergence of yoga and karate in the 80s, and the equipment revolution of the 90s! So, get inspired by some of the greats: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Emerson, Kerouac, and the many other transcendental writers Bechdel mentions, and GO OUT!
And then she fell
Author: Alicia Elliott
From the publisher: On the surface, Alice is exactly where she thinks she should be: she’s just given birth to a beautiful baby girl, Dawn; her charming husband, Steve—a white academic whose field of study is appropriate to her Mohawk culture—is nothing but supportive; and they moved to a new home in a posh neighborhood of Toronto. But Alice couldn’t feel more like an impostor. She doesn’t bond with her daughter, a struggle compounded by the recent loss of her own mother, and spends every waking moment hiding her despair from Steve and their ever-vigilant neighbors, of whom she is the only native resident. Even when she has a minute to herself, her constant self-doubt interferes with the only trace of her old life she has left: her goal to write a modern retelling of the Haudenosaunee creation story.
And then, as if all that wasn’t enough, strange things start happening. She finds herself losing track of time and hearing voices she can’t explain, while the passive-aggressive behavior of her neighbors begins to turn into something much more threatening. Although Steve assures her that it’s all in her head, Alice can’t resist the feeling that something is very, very wrong and that her story of creation holds the key to her and Dawn’s survival… She just has to finish before it’s too late .
From Teresa, bookstore: This book blew me away… I wasn’t expecting the twists and turns it took to get to the end, but I loved every single word on the pages. A strong, unflinching look at motherhood, mental, generational trauma and false alliances are also some of the difficult subjects that Elliott writes about in a beautifully crafted way. I can’t stop thinking about Disney’s version of Pocahontas, thanks to this book and I have a feeling I won’t be for a long time.
George Washington Carver: A Life
Author: Christina Vella
From the publisher: Christina Vella offers a comprehensive biography of George Washington Carver, including detailed details about his relationships with friends, colleagues, supporters, and those he loved. Despite the extraordinary trajectory of his career, Carver was not immune to the racism of the Jim Crow era or the poverty and hardship of the Great Depression and two world wars. Yet during this tumultuous period, his scientific achievements connected him with equally remarkable friends, including Teddy Roosevelt, Mohandas Gandhi, Henry A. Wallace, and Henry Ford.
A prodigious and generous scholar whose life was shaped by struggle and heartbreak as well as success and fame, George Washington Carver remains a key figure in the history of Southern agriculture, botanical progress, and the struggle for civil rights. Vella’s extensively researched biography offers a complex and compelling portrait of one of the most brilliant men of the last century.
From Sterling, Bookseller: Explore the life of one of the most incredible, fascinating and criminally overlooked historical figures to have lived at the turn of the 20th century. George Washington Carver was a leading black artist, professor and scientist of the time, who used his incredible drive almost entirely in the service of improving the lives of his communities. This biography offers an affordable, thorough examination of his life, including his romantic pursuits and what little is known about the enigma of his youth.
Carver was much more than just a “peanut man”; he was skilled in every kind of handicraft he ever dabbled in and was at the forefront of agricultural sciences that are only now being rediscovered as the ultimate need to move away from petro-chemical farming methods becomes ever more apparent.