Root and Press Newsletter Worcester's Independent Blog, Cafe and Bookstore
Groundhog Day

With cases rising then falling then rising again, and vaccines coming, then stalled, then arriving some more, keeping tabs on the state of the virus has been perplexing. (Not to mention the new strands of the virus.) We see people out to eat inside restaurants. We see people still doing curbside. We see people coming in but doing takeout. We (frustratingly) still see people refusing to wear the mask or distance, indifferent to the world and realities around them. Bottom line: we are perplexed on how to move forward. (What else is new? Rinse and repeat since March!)

Business has slowed since the holidays as the cold weather, lack of seating, and general winter (and pandemic) malaise has hit everyone, myself included. I have attempted to gauge the staff about their feelings about resuming indoor dining and the results are, in a word, mixed. As has been the case since the pandemic began, we are juggling sanitary and business concerns, attempting to navigate a path that maximizes safety for ourselves and staff while not compromising the financial health of the business. The winter (without indoor seating) has challenged those efforts like no other time, not even the early spring, and we are attempting to figure out the best course forward. Some limited seats? Status quo (no seating)? Specific book browsing hours? Many times throughout this year we have been bailed out our different revenue streams (coffee, books, gifts, food) at different times. Any ideas?

On a more exciting note, there is an avalanche of new titles this week, including two critically acclaimed books debuting in paperback: Deacon King Kong by James McBride and My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. Check them out below.

And for the ravenous among us, we have a Mac and Cheese Burger special, wings, Pastrami, and more! We hope to see you soon!

New Books!

Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blaine

 A chorus of extraordinary voices comes together to tell one of history's great epics: the four-hundred-year journey of African Americans from 1619 to the present--edited by Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, and Keisha N. Blain, author of Set the World on Fire.

The story begins in 1619--a year before the Mayflower--when the White Lion disgorges "some 20-and-odd Negroes" onto the shores of Virginia, inaugurating the African presence in what would become the United States. It takes us to the present, when African Americans, descendants of those on the White Lion and a thousand other routes to this country, continue a journey defined by inhuman oppression, visionary struggles, stunning achievements, and millions of ordinary lives passing through extraordinary history.

Four Hundred Souls is a unique one-volume "community" history of African Americans. The editors, Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, have assembled ninety brilliant writers, each of whom takes on a five-year period of that four-hundred-year span. The writers explore their periods through a variety of techniques: historical essays, short stories, personal vignettes, and fiery polemics. They approach history from various perspectives: through the eyes of towering historical icons or the untold stories of ordinary people; through places, laws, and objects. While themes of resistance and struggle, of hope and reinvention, course through the book, this collection of diverse pieces from ninety different minds, reflecting ninety different perspectives, fundamentally deconstructs the idea that Africans in America are a monolith--instead it unlocks the startling range of experiences and ideas that have always existed within the community of Blackness.

Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration  by Reuben Jonathon Miller

Each year, more than half a million Americans are released from prison and join a population of twenty million people who live with a felony record.

Reuben Miller, a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago and is now a sociologist studying mass incarceration, spent years alongside prisoners, ex-prisoners, their friends, and their families to understand the lifelong burden that even a single arrest can entail. What his work revealed is a simple, if overlooked truth: life after incarceration is its own form of prison. The idea that one can serve their debt and return to life as a full-fledge member of society is one of America's most nefarious myths. Recently released individuals are faced with jobs that are off-limits, apartments that cannot be occupied and votes that cannot be cast.

As The Color of Law exposed about our understanding of housing segregation, Halfway Home shows that the American justice system was not created to rehabilitate. Parole is structured to keep classes of Americans impoverished, unstable, and disenfranchised long after they've paid their debt to society.

Informed by Miller's experience as the son and brother of incarcerated men, captures the stories of the men, women, and communities fighting against a system that is designed for them to fail. It is a poignant and eye-opening call to arms that reveals how laws, rules, and regulations extract a tangible cost not only from those working to rebuild their lives, but also our democracy. As Miller searchingly explores, America must acknowledge and value the lives of its formerly imprisoned citizens.

Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America's Cheap Goods by Amelia Pang

In 2012, an Oregon mother named Julie Keith opened up a package of Halloween decorations. The cheap foam headstones had been five dollars at Kmart, too good a deal to pass up. But when she opened the box, something shocking fell out: an SOS letter, handwritten in broken English.

"Sir: If you occassionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization. Thousands people here who are under the persicuton of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever."
The note's author, Sun Yi, was a mild-mannered Chinese engineer turned political prisoner, forced into grueling labor for campaigning for the freedom to join a forbidden meditation movement. He was imprisoned alongside petty criminals, civil rights activists, and tens of thousands of others the Chinese government had decided to "reeducate," carving foam gravestones and stitching clothing for more than fifteen hours a day.

In Made in China, investigative journalist Amelia Pang pulls back the curtain on Sun's story and the stories of others like him, including the persecuted Uyghur minority group whose abuse and exploitation is rapidly gathering steam. What she reveals is a closely guarded network of laogai--forced labor camps--that power the rapid pace of American consumerism. Through extensive interviews and firsthand reportage, Pang shows us the true cost of America's cheap goods and shares what is ultimately a call to action--urging us to ask more questions and demand more answers from the companies we patronize.

Hitler and Stalin: The Tyrants and the Second World War by Laurence Rees

Two 20th century tyrants stand apart from all the rest in terms of their ruthlessness and the degree to which they changed the world around them. Briefly allies during World War II, Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin then tried to exterminate each other in sweeping campaigns unlike anything the modern world had ever seen, affecting soldiers and civilians alike. Millions of miles of Eastern Europe were ruined in their fight to the death, millions of lives sacrificed.

Laurence Rees has met more people who had direct experience of working for Hitler and Stalin than any other historian. Using their evidence he has pieced together a compelling comparative portrait of evil, in which idealism is polluted by bloody pragmatism, and human suffering is used casually as a political tool. It's a jaw-dropping description of two regimes stripped of moral anchors and doomed to destroy each other, and those caught up in the vicious magnetism of their leadership.

The Shadows of Empire: How Imperial History Shapes Our World by Samir Puri 

A masterful, thought-provoking, and wide-ranging study of how the vestiges of the imperial era shape society today.

In this groundbreaking narrative, The Shadows of Empire explains (in the vein of The Silk Roads and Prisoners of Geography) how the world's imperial legacies still shape our lives--as well as the thorniest issues we face today.

For the first time in millennia we live without formal empires. But that doesn't mean we don't feel their presence rumbling through history. From Russia's incursions in the Ukraine to Brexit; from Trump's America-First policy to China's forays into Africa; from Modi's India to the hotbed of the Middle East, Samir Puri provides a bold new framework for understanding the world's complex rivalries and politics.

Organized by region, and covering vital topics such as security, foreign policy, national politics and commerce, The Shadows of Empire combines gripping history and astute analysis to explain why the history of empire affects us all in profound ways; it is also a plea for greater awareness, both as individuals and as nations, of how our varied imperial pasts have contributed to why we see the world in such different ways.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Texas, 1921. A time of abundance. The Great War is over, the bounty of the land is plentiful, and America is on the brink of a new and optimistic era. But for Elsa Wolcott, deemed too old to marry in a time when marriage is a woman's only option, the future seems bleak. Until the night she meets Rafe Martinelli and decides to change the direction of her life. With her reputation in ruin, there is only one respectable choice: marriage to a man she barely knows.

By 1934, the world has changed; millions are out of work and drought has devastated the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as crops fail and water dries up and the earth cracks open. Dust storms roll relentlessly across the plains. Everything on the Martinelli farm is dying, including Elsa's tenuous marriage; each day is a desperate battle against nature and a fight to keep her children alive.

In this uncertain and perilous time, Elsa--like so many of her neighbors--must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or leave it behind and go west, to California, in search of a better life for her family.

The Four Winds a rich, sweeping novel that stunningly brings to life the Great Depression and the people who lived through it--the harsh realities that divided us as a nation and the enduring battle between the haves and the have-nots. A testament to hope, resilience, and the strength of the human spirit to survive adversity, The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.

A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood: The Bible and the American Civil War by James P. Byrd

In his Second Inaugural Address, delivered as the nation was in the throes of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that both sides "read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other." He wasn't speaking metaphorically: the Bible was frequently wielded as a weapon in support of both North and South.

As James P. Byrd reveals in this insightful narrative, no book was more important to the Civil War than the Bible. From Massachusetts to Mississippi and beyond, the Bible was the nation's most read and respected book. It presented a drama of salvation and damnation, of providence and judgment, of sacred history and sacrifice. When Americans argued over the issues that divided them -- slavery, secession, patriotism, authority, white supremacy, and violence -- the Bible was the book they most often invoked. Soldiers fought the Civil War with Bibles in hand, and both sides called the war just and sacred. In scripture, both Union and Confederate soldiers found inspiration for dying-and for killing-on a scale never before seen in the nation's history. With approximately 750,000 fatalities, the Civil War was the deadliest of the nation's wars, leading many to turn to the Bible not just to fight but to deal with its inevitable trauma.

A fascinating overview of religious and military conflict, A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood draws on an astonishing array of sources to demonstrate the many ways that Americans enlisted the Bible in the nation's bloodiest, and arguably most biblically-saturated conflict.

Love By Night: A Book of Poetry by S.K. Williams

Love by Night begins with anxious hesitation and nervous attraction, grows into tender affection, blossoms into passionate love, delves deep into whimsical dreams, and finally builds an image of an idyllic future together, as the reader develops along with the two characters of this poetic story.

Written as a conversation between two points of view in constant change and flux with each other, this book invites the reader into the conversation about the love that connects one person to another, but also all of us to each other.

Through this written testament to the emotional journeys books can take us on, S. K. Williams breaks down stereotypes, sexism, relationship roles, and brings awareness to mental health, grief, anxiety, depression, how to move forward, how to love in a healthy way, and, most of all, how to love yourself when it feels impossible.

Why Wakanda Matters: What Black Panther Reveals About Psychology, Identity, and Communication Edited by Sheena C. Howard

Black Panther introduced viewers to the stunning world of Wakanda, a fictional African country with incredible technological advancements, and to T'Challa, a young man stepping into his role as king and taking up the mantle of the Black Panther title from his late father.

The unforgettable story, coupled with the film's mega-success, has undoubtedly shaped the future of superhero cinema, in addition to genuinely changing viewers' lives. Why Wakanda Matters gives this iconic film the in-depth analysis it deserves under the lens of the latest psychological concepts-as well as delving into the lasting cultural impact of this unforgettable story.

Edited by Sheena C. Howardan award-winning author, filmmaker, and scholar, Why Wakanda Matters: What Black Panther Reveals About Psychology, Identity, and Communication features a collection of essays from leading experts in a variety of fields who offer insightful perspectives on topics such as:

  • Cognitive dissonance The important messages within T'Challa's nuanced identity and eventual shift from nationalism to globalism.
  • Intergenerational trauma and resistance How N'Jadaka (aka Erik/Killmonger) identifies with the trauma that his ancestors have suffered.
  • Social identity How Nakia, Shuri, Okoye, and Ramonda--all empowered, intelligent, and assertive women of color--can make a lasting impression on women and girls.
  • Collective identity How Black Panther has created a shared fantasy for Black audience members--and why this is groundbreaking.
  • Cultural and racial identity What we can learn from Black Panther's portrayal of a culture virtually untouched by white supremacy.

Fans of the movie and those interested in deeper discussions about the film will revel in this thought-provoking examination of all aspects of Black Panther and the power of psychology.

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