Biography, Black History, Entertainment, History, Nonfiction

Mobituaries, by Mo Rocca

You might recognize Mo Rocca and wonder where you’ve seen him before. It could be on The Daily Show or CBS News Sunday Morning. Maybe you’ve heard his unique voice on NPR. He’s a very smart, Harvard-educated, somewhat caricature-ish person, a description I think he would embrace. Funnily enough, I first saw him as the dimwitted newscaster, Ted Willoughby, on The Good Wife.

So imagine my surprise when I was browsing podcasts, looking for something that didn’t have an “E” for explicit language attached to it, and found that Mo (short for Maurice Alberto) hosted a show called Mobituaries. I listened to the episodes on Lawrence Welk, Audrey Hepburn, Marlena Dietrich, the Bunker Brothers (the original Siamese twins,) and a few others that escape me at the moment. They were clean, they were entertaining, and they were really interesting. When I found out he had a book that delved even deeper into these “great lives worth reliving,” I did what I rarely do…I actually bought the book.

Mo has vast interests, but his favorites are pop culture and US presidents. He also likes people who were the first to do something (Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks were preceded by others, who knew?) and famous siblings (Billy Carter, we hardly knew thee…) There are those famous people who died the same day, one always eclipsing the other (Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett both died on June 25, 2009. You can guess who took “center stage.”) There are also those people for whom the term “disambiguation” was created. (I’ll give you a second to look it up.) I’m talking about Audrey Hepburn vs Katherine Hepburn, Joan of Arc vs Joan Van Ark (do people really get those two mixed up?) and the whole Andrew Johnson/Andrew Jackson/Stonewall Jackson confusion. Honestly, distinguishing the difference between any of those people is not something that has ever kept me up at night, but it’s still fun.

There are places in the book that, admittedly, I skimmed. Some chapters are identical to their podcast counterparts. Some just didn’t interest me. The more I read, the more I realized that this would make the ideal “bathroom book.” That’s the book you put on the back of the commode where you and your guests can read whatever chapter they prefer when they need a little extra time to do their business.

If I had to choose between the Mobituaries podcast and the book, I would probably choose the podcast for two reasons. 1. It’s more succinct. The book gets a bit wordy. 2. Just to hear Mo’s voice. There is no comparison. Still, it’s a fun read, probably a good gift for certain history buffs, and a great literary addition to your bathroom.

8.5/10 stars

Here is a fun interview Mo does with Trevor Noah talking about Mobituaries, the book:

Biography, Black History, History, Nonfiction, Young Adult

The Life of Frederick Douglass, by David F. Walker

For the second time in two weeks I am completely bowled over by a book I discovered accidentally. I have so many thoughts right now…

With so much racial unrest happening I feel that one of the things we need to do is get at the core–its history and its reasons. Obviously, there is no one alive right now who can tell us what it was like to be a slave in the United States during the 1800’s, but when you read Frederick Douglass’s own words, you get pretty close.

I learned so much about this important historical figure who I thought I already knew. When I read about Harriet Tubman and the early suffragettes, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass is always mentioned. But until now, I did not know his personal history.

In this powerful book you learn about his entire life, from birth to death: his boyhood, his mother, his escape, his wife and children, and, of course, his determined quest to help abolish slavery.

Although it was not the custom at the time, Frederick Douglass purposefully looked into the camera when his picture was taken. He felt it showed his humanity and resolve.

This particular screen shot is one of many quotes by Douglass that made me realize the amount of guilt he often felt. Throughout his life he dealt with much internal conflict, always wondering if he was doing enough to help the slaves and always putting pressure on himself to be an example of dignity. He felt great responsibility to show others that a (former) slave is a person with intelligence and emotion, not just a piece of property to be bought, sold, and abused.

I highly, highly recommend this graphic novel to adults and young people. (Probably a mature 10 years old and older.) Although it chronicles an era of the past, its themes are still relevant. Mostly, that while many agree that change needs to happen, they differ on how to achieve that change. Until that question is resolved, how can things be different?

10/10 Stars

This book is available on, or perhaps your local digital library, which is where I found it. Just look at these amazing drawings by David F. Walker:

Black History, Children, History, Nonfiction, Poetry, Young Adult

A Wreath for Emmett Till, by Marilyn Nelson


This country we love has a Janus face: one mouth speaks with a forked tongue, the other reads the Constitution.

Let us first define what a Janus face is: cb922372af7ff4692a4ccfe77b79d2bbAmong other things, Janus was the Roman god of duality. And while America represents the Land of the Free for some, it is still a land of hypocrisy, fear, and double standards for many. The last couple of weeks have been a painful, shameful reminder of this.

I happened upon the poetic prose of Marilyn Nelson completely by accident this morning on my local digital library site. I was quickly intrigued by her beautifully expressed story of Emmett Till. For those unaware, Emmett Till was a 14 year old black boy who was lynched and murdered in 1955 for whistling at a white woman. His killers were never brought to justice. His mother, Mamie, who lost her husband 10 years before in a controversial hanging, courageously displayed her young son’s mutilated body in an open casket at his funeral. If the law would not prosecute those responsible, she would do it in her own way.

In this sonnet, A Wreath for Emmett Till, award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson speaks for the young man who could not speak for himself and for his brave mother, thrust into the spotlight after his killing. Everything is said with sorrow, with love, and with heart-felt apology. I can hardly do it justice:

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Nelson’s style lends a power that makes mere storytelling inadequate. While probably targeted for young readers, teens and adults will also appreciate this quiet treasure. And, although a quick read, the message lingers long after that we, as humans, still have a long way to go.

9.5 Stars