Materials We Have

Life After Death by Damien Echols

In 1993 three teenagers, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley Jr were arrested and charged with the murders of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The ensuing trial was rife with inconsistencies, false testimony and superstition. Echols was accused of, among other things, practising witchcraft and satanic rituals – a result of the “satanic panic” prevalent in the media at the time. Baldwin and Miskelley were sentenced to life in prison. Echols, deemed the ringleader, was sentenced to death. He was eighteen years old.

In a shocking reversal of events, all three were suddenly released in August 2011. This is Damien Echols' story in full: from abuses by prison guards and wardens, to descriptions of inmates and deplorable living conditions, to the incredible reserves of patience, spirituality, and perseverance that kept him alive and sane for nearly two decades. Echols also writes about his complicated and painful childhood. Like Dead Man Walking, Life After Death is destined to be a classic. 

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The Innocent Man by John Grisham

In the town of Ada, Oklahoma, Ron Williamson was going to be the next Mickey Mantle. But on his way to the big leagues, Ron stumbled, his dream broken by drinking, drugs, and women. Then on a winter night in 1982, not far from Ron's home, a young cocktail waitress named Debra Sue Carter was savagely murdered. The investigation led nowhere. Until, on the flimsiest evidence, it led to Ron Williamson. The washed-up small-town hero was charged, tried, and sentenced to death--in a trial littered with lying witnesses and tainted evidence that would shatter a man's already broken life...and let a true killer go free.

Impeccably researched, grippingly told, filled with eleventh-hour drama, John Grisham's first work of non-fiction reads like a page-turning legal thriller. It is a book that will terrify anyone who believes in the presumption of innocence--a book that no American can afford to miss.

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Death and Justice: An Expose of Oklahoma's Death Row Machine by Mark Fuhrman

Controversy rages about capital punishment as innocent men and women are being released from death rows all over the country. Are innocent people being executed? Is capital punishment justice or is it revenge? 

Into the debate steps Mark Fuhrman, America's most famous detective, and no stranger to controversy himself. Fuhrman seeks to answer these questions by investigating the death penalty in Oklahoma, where a "hang 'em high" attitude of cowboy justice resulted in twenty–one executions in 2001, more than any other state. Most of these cases came from one jurisdiction, Oklahoma County, where legendary DA Bob Macy bragged of sending more people to death row than any other prosecutor, and police chemist Joyce Gilchrist was eventually fired for mismanaging the crime lab. Examining police records, trial transcripts, appellate decisions and conducting hundreds of interviews, Fuhrman focuses his considerable investigative skills on more than a dozen of the most controversial Oklahoma death penalty cases.

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The Work: My Search For a Life That Matters by Wes Moore

The acclaimed author of The Other Wes Moore continues his inspirational quest for a meaningful life and shares the powerful lessons—about self-discovery, service, and risk-taking—that led him to a new definition of success for our times.

The Work is the story of how one young man traced a path through the world to find his life’s purpose. Wes Moore graduated from a difficult childhood in the Bronx and Baltimore to an adult life that would find him at some of the most critical moments in our recent history: as a combat officer in Afghanistan; a White House fellow in a time of wars abroad and disasters at home; and a Wall Street banker during the financial crisis. In this insightful book, Moore shares the lessons he learned from people he met along the way—from the brave Afghan translator who taught him to find his fight, to the resilient young students in Katrina-ravaged Mississippi who showed him the true meaning of grit, to his late grandfather, who taught him to find grace in service.

Moore also tells the stories of other twenty-first-century change-makers who’ve inspired him in his search, from Daniel Lubetzky, the founder of KIND, to Esther Benjamin, a Sri Lankan immigrant who rose to help lead the Peace Corps. What their lives—and his own misadventures and moments of illumination—reveal is that our truest work happens when we serve others, at the intersection between our gifts and our broken world. That’s where we find the work that lasts.

An intimate narrative about finding meaning in a volatile age, The Work will inspire readers to see how we can each find our own path to purpose and help create a better world.

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Me & Earl & the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

If Greg Gaines is proud of one thing, it is his talent for invisibility. As senior year kicks off, he has offically become the guy who gets along with everyone around him, without really knowing any of them...except for Earl. Brought together through their love of films, Greg and Earl, who define themselves as business partners first and foremost, have managed to keep their hobby of creating replicas of their favorite films from their peers, and avoid the potentially mortifying consequences of their films being viewed by anyone other than Greg's parents. But when Greg's mom arranges for him to keep a former friend from Hebrew school company as she begins chemotherapy, everything begins to change. 

A true to life account of one senior year experience that leaves us all feeling better about not having it all figured out. Highly recommended for teens and adults. 

Hammer Head: The making of a carpenter by Nina MacLaughlin

Like many young professionals in their twenties, Nina MacLaughlin spent most of her days at a desk, honing her career skills at a Boston newspaper in order to climb the ladder in her profession. In the midst of her career climb, as she approached her late twenties, MacLaughlin realized that she had hit a wall. The route she walked to and from work each day began to lose its luster, and she questioned whether the  slow and steady draining of her mind into the screen before her (another daily occurence) meant anything in the end. Her daily routines, which at one time had brought comfort and a sense of purpose to her life, had gone stale. After examining this unexpected change of heart for some time, MacLaughlin did what many in her position only dream of. One morning she walked to work, crossing the bridge that she had so many times before, and promptly quite her job.  

MacLaughlin's story is one of personal and professional growth, and proves that there are times when going with your gut can truly pay off. As she takes a leap into a new profession as a carpenter's assistant, we are invited along for the little known frustrations and setbacks experienced by professional carpenters, the grit and grime of remodeling basements, the joy of working with freshly cut two by fours and mastering the art and accuracy required for finish work.  But it is the unexpected love of the job, and the satisfaction she receives from fixing, restoring, and creating lasting pieces that ultimately make this title worth a look. Highly recommended for twenty somethings, and anyone seeking to reinvent their career path. 

Books on Tap - July Follow Up

With a majority of the group apparently on summer vacation, we had a small group discussion about The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. Overall, this light read with hints of the tale of Forrest Gump, was the perfect summer read for our group. It was interesting to see the history of Allan Karlson and the interesting group of people he encountered through his life (Mao Zedong, Winston Churchill, and Harry S. Truman to name a very few). Jonasson's background in journalism is on full display in this book: even though the idea that Allan led the life in the story is far-fetched; the timeline of his actions was thoroughly researched and lined up accordingly.

We also did our summer book exchange and talked a little about other books we've been reading. See the list and descriptions here.

Come to Jimmy's August 11 when we discuss the One Book, One Community selection Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.

Skink No Surrender by Carl Hiassen

Carl Hiaasen has done it again...and for the young adult audience this time!  I have enjoyed all of his books for kids - Flush, Hoot, Scat and Chomp.  The books he writes for adults are entertaining as well.  This is his first YA novel, and it contains all of the elements of classic Hiaasen- engaging dialogue, characters that are a little off base (at least one!), environmental issues and a fast paced storyline.  Skink No Surrender tells the story of cousins - Richard and Malley - and what happens when Malley goes off the grid.  Her parents think she is one place, Richard's not sure what is happening, he just knows something is not right - and all of a sudden he is off to find Malley riding shotgun with Skink, a ragged, one-eyed, wandering vigilante, with perfect teeth.  Skink is also the former governor of Florida...and supposedly dead.  Hope you enjoy this ride - it is a fun read and definitely worth the escape!!