Check It Out: Searching for democracy through books

How do we come together to talk about things that matter to us all?

On a foundation of thought-provoking books, California Reads provides a springboard for people in our community to think about and discuss ideas that are critical to life in our state. Searching for Democracy is a yearlong initiative leading up to the presidential elections of 2012 that provides Californians with many different ways to explore how the humanities provide insights and opportunities to converse about the nature, state, and needs of our democracy.

The Newport Beach Public Library invites you to be a part of this journey, discovering what "democracy" means by providing a selection of books as the foundation of the community dialogue. No one book can capture all the complexities, but each one offers the reader a new perspective about democracy, including how democracy might be challenged.

"The Penguin Guide to the United States Constitution: A Fully Annotated Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Amendments, and Selections from The Federalist Papers" by Richard Beeman: This compact, fully annotated reference to important documents includes coverage of crucial Supreme Court cases that have shaped America's constitutional history.

"Farewell to Manzanar" by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston: This is a true story of one spirited Japanese-American family's attempt to survive the indignities of forced detention and of a native-born American child who discovered what it was like to grow up behind barbed wire in the United States.

"It Can't Happen Here" by Lewis Sinclair: This cautionary tale explores the fragility of democracy, as an alarming, eerily timeless look at how fascism could take hold in America. Written during the Great Depression when America was largely oblivious to Hitler's aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a President who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, rampant promiscuity, crime, and a liberal press.

"A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster" by Rebecca Solnit: The author investigates the moments of altruism, resourcefulness, and generosity that arise amid disaster's grief and disruption and considers their implications for everyday life. It points to a new vision of what society could become-one that is less authoritarian and fearful, more collaborative and local.

"Lost City Radio" by Daniel Alarcón: Imparting comfort while reading the names of missing people to her war-ravaged listeners, radio host Norma finds her life irrevocably changed when a young boy from a remote jungle village provides a connection to her long-missing husband.

Make sure to join us for our special program kicking off Newport Beach Public Library's community-wide initiative for Searching for Democracy, an Author-in-Conversation with Professor Richard Beeman and Mary Menzel, director of the California Center for the Book. The event will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Friends Room at the Central Library branch, 1000 Avocado Ave., Newport Beach.

CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All titles may be reserved from home or office computers by accessing the catalog at For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, please contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.

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