October

I can’t wait for this election to be over. I am horrified by the vitriol and despicible-ness that the Trump campaign has helped “normalize.” White male privilege & power has never been more on display. When I hear “Make America Great Again” all I hear is “Make America White Again.” What does it mean and what does “Again” mean? What period is being referred to?

In the midst of all the racist and nasty rhetoric I’ve been reading some fantastic books that address the history and the current situation of black and brown people in America. Books like the ones below are exactly why I read. In an essay in his new collection The View from the Cheap Seats, Neil Gaiman writes: “You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.” The following books changed me. They are all well-written novels that I am so glad exist!

  • Oprah’s latest book club pick, Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead crushed me. I read the first chapter and then I put it aside for a few days. I picked it back up, and then I could not put it down. When I was a kid I remember thinking that the underground railroad was a real mode of transportation that helped slaves escape to the north – apparently Whitehead thought the same thing. Whitehead uses creative license to write a slave narrative that invokes traditional models, yet it is something completely different. He imagines a world where there is a real underground railroad that is carefully hidden and navigated by his narrator, Cora. Like Gulliver, she navigates different stops on a journey that illuminate absurdities. This book made me uncomfortable, it made me sick to my stomach – yet, it is essential and I’m so glad I read it. Check out his interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air.
  • Right before Underground Railroad, I read Ben Winters’ speculative fiction/noir detective/slave narrative novel Underground Airlines. Like Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (we just finished the 1st season Amazon Prime & it is OUTSTANDING), an alternative version of history is explored. In Underground Airlines the Civil War did not happen, and in the present day several states still have slavery. Imagine several states having slaves in this modern world of capitalism and greed – its horrifying and it hits a little close to home. “… their shit is pretty cheap, wherever it’s coming from. It’s pretty cheap and it’s pretty good. Nothing would change. People shaking their heads, shrugging their shoulders, slaves suffering somewhere far away, the Earth turning around the sun.” 
  • Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing explores slavery over a period of 300 years and multiple generations. In linked chapters, the reader is introduced to the multi-generational lines that run from 2 sisters in Ghana who were separated by random circumstance – one stays in Africa, and one is put on a slave ship. The lasting effects of slavery & racism carry on from generation to generation. Homegoing is an emotional, heartbreaking journey.
  • Like Homegoing, Annie Proulx’s enormous novel Barkskins, follows 300 years from the perspective of the family trees of 2 linked people. In this case, it is French men who come to America as indentured servants. Their lives take different turns as one escapes, and the other stays and marries a Native American woman. Over and over, this novel reminds us America was built on so many deaths and the destruction of natural resources. It’s a sweeping tale with hundreds of characters (if you get lost, check out the family trees at the end) who are all at the mercy of circumstance and luck.  Proulx writes, “People streamed into the country – almost a million Irish in twenty years, half a million Germans. They came from all over the world, Germans, Canadians, English, Irish, French, Norwegians, Swedes. The world had heard of the rich continent with its inexhaustible coverlet of forests, its earth streaked as a moldy cheese with veins of valuable metals, fish and game in numbers too great to be compassed, hundreds of millions of acres of empty land waiting to be taken and a beckoning, generous government too enchanted with its own democratic image to deal with shrewd men whose people had lived by their wits for centuries. Everything was there for the taking – it was the chance of a lifetime and it would never come again.” 
  • I can’t believe it took me so long to pick up Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s amazing novel Americanah. Adichie follows the lives of a young Nigerian couple who are divided by the Post 9/11 immigration policies in America. Race and identity are explored in such a powerful, thought-provoking way. I was floored by this novel.

For some lighter reading, check out Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers, J Ryan Stradal’s Kitchens of the Great Midwest, and Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky

If you want to figure out what to read next, check out the blog Book Marks. It compiles book reviews and grades books. Great place to find something to read.

Watch this…Hamiltons America. Holy crap, it is good. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius and this documentary is AMAZING!

I could watch this speech over and over and over…I want to hang out with Michelle Obama and talk over a glass (or two) of wine. Seriously, she is the coolest!!

 

 

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