What We’re Reading

In need of a holiday read? Look no further than the detailed recommendations from the latest round of Staff Picks in the Fall 2016 issue of Off the Shelf. Staff reviews are reprinted below.

The Last Days of Old Beijing (Walker & Company, 2008) by Michael Meyer 

meyerjacketReading about a place is the second-best thing to packing your bags and moving there, and I’ve recently become fascinated with China. The Last Days of Old Beijing by Michael Meyer is one of those wonderful books that combine travel, history, and current events with first-rate reporting and personal anecdotes.

A former Peace Corps volunteer, Michael Meyer chose to return to China and move into an old-style courtyard house in a hutong—a traditional street neighborhood—in central Beijing in the years prior to the 2008 Olympics. The only Westerner in the neighborhood, Meyer uses his reporter’s eye for detail and ability to converse with people from all walks of life to chronicle the gradual destruction of these traditional neighborhoods to make way for modern developments such as high-rise apartments and international franchises like Wal-Mart and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Filled with unique insights not only on China but on the price of modernity, The Last Days of Old Beijing is a fascinating and personal account of how the struggles of people on the other side of the world aren’t that different from our own.

Reviewed by E-Learning Librarian Eliot Boden

Jimi Hendrix: A Brother’s Story (St. Martin’s Press, 2012) by Leon Hendrix with Adam Mitchell 

hendrixjacketLeon Hendrix, Jimi’s younger brother and closest family member, delivers an engrossing account of their impoverished childhood. The siblings’ alcoholic and gambling-addicted father struggled to provide for his torn-apart family as they moved from one low-rent dwelling to the next. Hendrix goes on to chronicle Jimi’s musical beginnings in regional bands, his stint in the army, and his pre-fame wanderings across the country as a backup guitarist for dozens of early soul and R&B greats, offering an up-close and close-to-the-heart look at the rise of an icon.

Hendrix is forthright in his depiction of his own life as a burglar, hustler, and drug dealer. Later in life, he reformed himself by choosing a musical path like that of his brother. The end of the book provides details on the ongoing family legal struggle over Jimi’s estate, which is valued at over $200 million. Well written in an informal tell-it-like-it-is style, this is one of the better biographies of Jimi Hendrix.

Reviewed by Library Assistant David Chance 

The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson (Touchstone Books, 1997) by Jeffrey Toobin 

toobinjacketAfter finishing FX’s amazing series The People v. O.J. Simpson: An American Crime Story, I immediately turned to Jeffrey Toobin’s book, which provided the show’s source material. As a New Yorker journalist reporting on the trial, Toobin not only offers an insider’s view on the media coverage of the case but also significant access to key players. Toobin never questions Simpson’s guilt. Instead, he explores how Simpson was acquitted despite overwhelming evidence. Unlike the FX series, he offers significant criticism of prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden, detailing their many mistakes, which ultimately resulted in their losing a seemingly unbeatable case.

Toobin also examines the entrenched racism in the Los Angeles Police Department and the impact of decades of violent abuses of power on both the trial and people of color in Los Angeles. This aspect of the book has new significance in the context of today’s Black Lives Matter movement. A thoroughly engrossing work of investigative journalism, Toobin’s book is a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about one of the biggest cultural touchstones of the last 25 years.

Reviewed by Head of Collection Management and Outreach for Special Collections Joy Novak


About the author