What Should I Read Next?
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

#5 in our new regular feature that offers up staff-selected recommendations for your consideration.

undergroundrailroadColson Whitehead has been getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so, for his latest novel, Underground Railroad. In this Oprah’s Book Club Selection, Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
So, yes, read that great book, but also consider Ben H. Winter’s chilling new thriller that offers a brilliant and completely different take on the same difficult landscape by daring to mix slavery and science fiction, Underground Airlines.
In this chilling new thriller, a bounty hunter named Victor tracks fugitives for the United States Marshals Service. But his mission, like his past, is complicated: The people he’s chasing are escaped slaves. Their main crime is rejecting a life of forced servitude. And Victor himself was once one of them.
The novel is both creatively and professionally risky as it tackles the thorny subject of racial injustice in America. It takes place in a contemporary United States where the Civil War never happened, and slavery remains legal in four states, and it’s narrated by a former slave who has paid a steep moral price for his freedom. “I had reservations every day, up to the present day, because the subject is so fraught, and rightfully so,” Mr. Winters said. “It isn’t as if this is ancient history in this country.”
Both books come highly recommended, deepening the impact and adding layers of complexity to one another.


Dan is currently the director of the Fanwood (NJ) Memorial Library. Since he accepted that position in 1997 he has dramatically taken this small suburban library into the 21st century with improvements in facilities, staffing and service. He has served locally, regionally and state wide on many civic and library related committees and boards. In his current position Dan gets to do it all, from overseeing web development, graphics design and renovations, to public relations and fund-raising, all while being the go-to-guy for overflowing toilets and salting the front walk. With his colleague, Meg Kolaya, Dan started the consulting firm Library Connections that developed the nationally recognized and award-winning Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected project. They produced a customer service training video (updated in 2014) and website primarily for library staff to help them serve individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families more effectively. Dan and Meg have given many customer service and autism workshop presentations and keynote addresses, participated in conferences, taught online courses and consulted both locally and around the United States. After hours, Dan continues his varied music career, now with well over 50 years of performing, singing and playing the guitar. He loves all kinds of music with a special fondness for vocalists (Hank Williams, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday and George Jones), bluegrass, honky-tonk, and acoustic roots country. Check www.dannyweiss.com to find out where to hear him next.