What To Read Right Now

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Rivertown.

When Toni Morrison died on August 5th last summer, I was amazed to realize I’d never read anything by this Pulitzer (and Nobel!) Prize winning author. Then I watched, on CBS Sunday Morning, and excerpt from an NPR interview, and promptly read three of her books to get a sampling of her writing. They were not an easy read.

What I’ve realized in the past few weeks is that, while I’ve heard myself say I love to read about women’s lives (and lately some men’s, too), I’ve read precious few books about black women’s lives, most by Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker – either fiction or memoirs. There have been tons of posts on FB, etc., about what it is like to be African-American in this country (not to mention Native, Hispanic, Asian) – stories that try to explain what the term “white privilege” means, and I think I’m just beginning to understand.

Something  PJ said the other day on the Trail spoke to me:  “At the moment I’m immersed in learning more about American history, race relations, politics, and the changing vocabulary and strategies that have been used over time to divide us along racial, economic, and political lines. I’d much rather be doing something else, but it feels as if it’s my civic duty to be as informed as I can be so I can better understand what’s going on all around us.”

To that end, I’ve ordered James Baldwin’s Collected Essays, after hearing a conversation about him with MPR’s Angela Davis. I came upon this “Anti-Racist Lit. Starter Kit.”

It can be argued that we need to do much more than try to fix it by “throwing a book at it”. But like PJ, educating myself is what I can do right now.

Do you have any recommendations for books we could read right now, to further understand what needs to change in our culture?

94 thoughts on “What To Read Right Now”

  1. Black people frightened my parents.. And yet our home library held two books by Richard Wright that astonished and moved me when, still in high school, I found and read them. I think they were Native Son and Black Boy.

    I later read and enjoyed some of Baldwin’s work, including The Fire Next Time.

    The book that impressed me most was Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice.

    I’ve enjoyed some of Walter Moseley’s novels.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    A book day—love these topics.

    My first thought is that I will have to comb through books and audio library to answer this. So I will spend the day thinking. One of the most interesting things I have ever read that reveals the mind and experience of Native Americans and how they experienced the frontier as white people moved in, is “Black Elk Speaks.” Black Elk , an Oglala Lakota, is interviewed by John G. Neihart in 1932. It is a hard read (I skipped the endless dreams and visions) because he feels such despair about the future of his people. But by the end, you understand what this was like for them.

    I will have more, but this is first book to rise to the top of my mind.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. The really interesting part is the one in which he joins Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and goes with him to Paris, and then returns home. Talk about culture clash.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve read two lately that I would recommend. The first is a young adult fiction The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and really gives a good look at how the narrative of a police murder twists and morphs against the victim. It’s been on the ALA Banned Books top ten a couple of times and I just happened to be reading it the week the George Floyd was murdered. There is a very compelling chapter towards the end that really helped me get my mind around the protests and violence.

    The second title is How to be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi. It’ not actually a self-help books with a list of things you can do but a memoir of Kendi’s journey to understand racism in his own life. But Kendi does an excellent job of laying out what he sees as cause and effect in our world as well as re-writing some of the vocabulary that we use when discussing racist ideas and policies.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Sorry, yes. About six or seven years ago I decided that I wanted to read the books that make the ALAs top 10 most requested books to be banned. The list for the year before usually comes out in early to mid summer.

        Like

  4. I recently read a terrific book called Empire of the Summer Moon. It’s a fascinating tale about the most powerful Indian tribe ever, the Comanche tribe, and the equally moving story of Cynthia Ann Parker. She was captured at age 10 by Comanches and raised by them. She was later found and “saved” by whites, although she had thoroughly embraced Indian culture by that time. She was the mother of Quanah Parker, a war chief who thrived in the decades after whites brought his people under their control. This book is a great read.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I like Sherman Alexie’s book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part time Indian. One of his books of short stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfighht in Heaven was made into the movie Smoke Signsls, a terrific movie. He is a member of the coer d’Alene tribe.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Every single word written by Sherman Alexie. A complex and insightful writer, who takes you into multiple points of view at once. Plus of course Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Custer Died for Your Sins.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. The sad, sad thing about Sherman Alexie is that during the #MeToo moments, many women came forward with evidence that his behavior was pretty out-of-control. Around the same time his memoir was published. It detailed his own struggle with Bipolar D/O, and the problems in his family. It was just anguishing—he was both neglected and abused pretty badly.

          Both his behavior and what he has experienced in life just broke my heart.

          Liked by 3 people

  6. A book I’d recommend to anyone is Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, a Pulitzer Prize winner about the great migration of blacks from sharecropping and discrimination in the South northward in search of opportunity and a better life.

    With my interest in the nineteenth century, I have quite a few slave narratives, books about slave uprisings, books about the underground railroad and abolition and about reconstruction, as well as a collection of accounts by blacks in the aftermath of the Civil War titles Been in the Storm So Long by Leon Litwack.

    Te Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Mewas one of the Blevins selections and eye-opening. It’s hard to read these things. It makes you angry. It makes you feel impotent. It often seems like the power to effect meaningful change is too distant and too entrenched to ever be able to personally influence.

    I can’t speak for anyone else but when I say I don’t think of myself as racist, I have to admit I haven’t examined my attitudes very critically. Even if we don’t feel racist, we have to recognize that we benefit unquestioningly from entrenched white privilege, which acts as a sort of passive racism.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree, Bill. I think that examining our own beliefs and where they come from is an important step in the process. Being willing to listen and learn, even when that process is uncomfortable or even painful.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks, BiR, for bringing up this subject. There’s so much to learn. I’m obviously no expert on race relations, but it seems to me that perhaps we’re on the cusp of a major sea change in that regard. Not only here, but all over the world.

    I’ve long known that history text books were not reliable or complete sources of information, so I searched out complementary sources of information as well. Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn were two early sources, and there have been others along the way. Heather Cox Richardson is my current favorite.

    Just a few days ago I discovered that there’s a free African American History course from Yale available on line. I haven’t completed it as yet, but I’ll be making my way through it. Here’s a link if you’re interested:
    https://oyc.yale.edu/african-american-studies/afam-162?fbclid=IwAR353v1WZN8qmOGvBSfemnXg0Tv4rZbmIKKIWgSRVWykrQYs0LhLbruUsTY

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Count me among those folks who think we could be about to experience significant change in the way police treat minorities. All my life, I’ve heard stories about cops mistreating blacks. I got used to thinking that a large amount of that abuse was inevitable and wasn’t likely to change. Now it seems real change might be possible. What accounts for the difference?

    I think a major reason things are possibly improving is cell phone videos. We always heard rumors about police abusing minorities, although many of us assumed the stories were exaggerated. But there is a cumulative impact of video after video showing that the rumors were true. I think one day historians will point to the video capability of cell phones to record events as one of the great agents of change.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There can be no doubt that the video of Chauvin, casually kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, and remaining so minutes after he had passed out, was shocking to many people. His nonchalant demeanor, as if this black man’s life meant nothing to him, was breathtaking in its cruelty.

      These cellphone videos are serving as wake-up calls. They are documenting, in graphic detail, the violence and abuse of power against people of color that they have been experiencing for decades. I think lots of white people have tended to dismiss reports of such abuses, and have given the police the benefit of the doubt. As more and more of these videos come to light, even those reluctant to believe that this kind of thing is actually happening, will have to deal with the reality that black men, in particular, have lived with for a long time.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Ralph Ellisons’s Invisible Man. Astounding work, takes you into same issues as Wright and Baldwin, but metaphorically, not historically. Like magical realism but far stronger on the magical. The paint plant moment sticks in my memory despite reading it 40 years ago. Read it for some graduate class, no idea which class.
    But I admit I am not capable of addressing this issues right now, not capable of reading actually. Try to avoid the news but cannot. Don’t think I am alone in this. Having lived in the heart of South Chicago 57-55 years ago, I have known all along that nothing has changed. Like Bill it taught me then how much I have benefited by it all.
    So much that is overwhelming in my personal life hitting my hard at once.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. dr burcholtz i assume?

      i hope you can enjoy life with all the stuff going on
      you and sandy have the health issues that make the corona virus look like a new thing is all

      i will pick up the invisible man

      daughters are in chicago now
      actually i have one there and one home for the extended summer, chicago is an intense racial, political, ethnic hothouse but i love it.

      i was thinking
      be here now
      by ram das

      thinkers stuff.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I also am avoiding the news. (I almost said like the plague. That would be very bad.) I am finding that I have become so cynical about information being disseminated these days that I hardly believe anything anymore. I’m pretty much letting YA give me the news of what the governor says and that’s about it. Even just scrolling through Facebook I feel like I get more than I even want.

      Like

      1. Here is something to help you feel better about the world. It is off of Twitter regarding #45’s Tulsa rally which was quite poorly attended.

        “This is what happened tonight. I’m dead serious when I say this. The teens of America have struck a savage blow against @realDonaldTrump. All across America teens ordered tickets to this event. The fools on the campaign bragged about a million tickets. lol. @ProjectLincoln.“

        I love this generation of teens. Thanks to them.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Not to mention that hey may be saving lives by limiting the attendance, in a city with spiking coronavirus cases and few people taking even the barest minimum precautions to prevent the spread.

          Liked by 4 people

  10. i have shaken my head for years wondering how turner vlassic movies gets away with all the politically incorrect offerings just because they were of their time…
    i heard gone with the wind has been banished from the air for just this reason
    the others should start disappearing soon

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe people were not asking for Gone with the Wind never to be shown, but always having the context of the movie explained, such as, I hope, Mitchell’s racism.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I loved the book when I was a teen. It was a good story, well told, but it also gave me an understanding of Mitchell’s point of view. Before reading Gone With the Wind, I had assumed that people who supported slavery and the Confederacy were just evil people. Mitchell’s book showed me how people rationalize their beliefs to make it possible for them to sleep at night.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. The project I’ve been working on, the transcription of letters written between abolitionists from about 1833-1880 has just about made its way through the over 11,000 letters in the collection at the Boston Library and we have started on a set of letters written to a prominent Charleston slave trader named Ziba B. Oakes. Many of the letters talk about the current market values for particular slaves or classes of slaves, as if they were just another commodity. Talk about the banality of evil!

          Liked by 2 people

        2. When we have visited the American SE (Charleston, SC,Savannah, GA) we have been fascinated. It creates cognitive dissonance. I have written a post about the visits there that started with a family interest in the Civil War. A granddaughter of my great-great Grandfather who fought in Sherman’s army collected all of his letters to his wife. The Army stayed about 6 weeks in Savannah during the time that Sherman presented Lincoln with an undamaged Savannah for Christmas. During that time he was smitten with Savannah.

          However, when we visit with the locals, the descendants of landed slave owners will tell you things like, “We don’t call it the Civil War. We call it the War of Northern Aggression.” Or while touring Sherman’s Headquarters in the old central city, “Our servants did not mind servitude with us.” The descendants of the African-American enslaved people will tell you that their family stories tell of brutality and that they minded quite a lot. (I know a man who lives here, whose mother grew up in Savannah. Her verified to me that they minded). Given that history, the African Americans there are gracious lovely people who have created a vibrant economy for themselves there.

          Liked by 3 people

        3. Among the books that comment on lingering racial attitudes in the South:
          Tony Horwitz’s “Confederates in the Attic” and “Spying on the South”,
          Paul Theroux’s “Deep South” and V. S, Naipaul’s “A Turn in the South”.
          I’ve read them all, most recently Horwitz’s “Spying on the South”, which retraces and comments on Frederick Law Olmstead’s pre-Civil War travels through the south, later compiled in a volume called “The Cotton Kingdom”, a copy of which I also have in my library.

          Liked by 2 people

  11. I’m not sure I have anything to add. Of the books I can remember reading, I’m not sure any had anything to do with cultural issues.

    I did learn about Malcolm X doing research for an English paper and that was pretty eye opening.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I read Alex Haley’s <Autobiography of Malcolm X in high school. I gained a lot of insight, but it left me with a craving, probably common to a lot of white people, for the more comforting messages of MLK Jr.

      Liked by 3 people

  12. I recently completed “The NIght Watchman” by Louise Erdrich. It is about her grandfather in 1953. He leads a group to Washington DC to resist the plan to move the tribe off the reservation to the urban reservation in Mpls, and he wins.

    It is another insightful book about life for Natives, as well as life for women when men have so much power.

    Liked by 5 people

  13. I read “Invisible Man” way back in either high school or college. I should re-read it now since I think it would make a much bigger impression. And I have “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” in my personal library. Thanks for the book recommendations from all of you – lots to choose from and lots to learn.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I read Invisible Man and Black Like Me back in high school as well. They made an impression, but over half a century later I couldn’t tell you exactly what those impressions were. Living in a suburb, and an overwhelmingly white one at the time, I really didn’t have the experience to put what I was reading in context.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read both of those books back in the late sixties or early seventies, and found them both shocking. I was at SIU at the time, and lots of unrest, both racial and with regard to the Vietnam War, was making it hard to ignore. “Black Like Me” was, of course, written by a white man, John Howard Griffin. Griffin disabused me and many other white people of the notion that blacks were exaggerating when they related how racism was affecting their daily lives. He experienced it first hand in his darkened skin, and was terrified of the experiment.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. As a great student of Huckleberry Finn, wrote my masters thesis on it, And a man who taught in for several years and sturggled with THAT WORD: where does this leave that book?

    Like

    1. Huck Finn is so interesting because it simply portrays the attitudes of that time, while Jim and Huck float south. I really love that book. I think books or movies that reflect the cultural biases of the ages they reflect or the ages in which they were written (Gone with the Wind) beg to be read in our time, but with the caveat that they reflect attitudes of the authors and of the times. It must have been hard to teach Huck Finn and deal with the word, though. I do remember in the 50’s that it was still in general use by the public.

      Some classic of our time will be read in 100 years and be just as biased as those books are, and I hope people keep reading.

      Like

    2. THAT WORD is only a word, and in its context, it’s an authentic one.

      I know there have been bowdlerized versions of Huckleberry Finn where that word has been excised, but avoiding a conversation about race and the history of racism is not the same thing as not being racist.

      Liked by 5 people

  15. This has been niggling in my mind all day. I went to the grocery store and was shopping for vegetables. Root vegetables, and finally it came to me: “Roots” by Alex Haley. It was published when I was a young woman, then made into a riveting mini-series. It was a wonderful education about what enslaved people endured.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I once heard a principal lecture the staff about test scores, shouting at us, “You have my dandruff up.” That guy was of the same ilk as whoever the principal was who fired the “niggling” teacher. Come to think of it, maybe HE fired the teacher. Mr Malaprop.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Curiosity made me look up the etymology of both words, and neither of them have any relationship, etymologically speaking, to the N word. The origin of both words is unclear, but likely Scandinavian.

          Like

  16. I enjoyed Gordon Parks’ A Choice of Weapons, as a local author’s perspective. Also the plays of August Wilson. And last year PJ and I saw Pipeline, a play by Dominique Morisseau in which a divorced mother struggles to help her son navigate race and class divides.

    I also like to watch <Finding Your Roots on PBS. Not all the segments have racial undertones, but many do, and there are usually some surprises.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Penumbra is a great little theater in St. Paul. It consistently puts on excellent productions of important work by black writers. I have seen all of August Wilson’s plays there. They draw from both local and national talent, I’m always impressed by the quality of the productions, and it’s a small enough theater that it feels intimate. I usually go on evenings where the performance is followed by a discussion between the audience and the performers. Love that place and the talent that drives it. Happy that they are so accessible to me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I too am familiar with Penumbra. They have a wonderful reputation.

        I think all the theaters in Rochester talk about trying to get more people of color involved. For whatever reason it’s been hard to get any involved. Shows have been reflected because we can’t find actors.
        At the college we might have a bit more luck as there may be more minority students around, but then they don’t stay in the area. Theaters have reached out to churches and right now there’s discussion of trying to get someone from the black lives matter movement involved. And it could just be that Rochester is pretty white. But that is something we struggle with.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I also enjoy “Finding Your Roots,” both because of the genealogy and because of the family stories, whether it has racial undertones, or not. Then you add the newer technology of DNA testing for even more interest.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. OT YouTube recommendations. Sorry I missed last Sunday. Life got in the way. Today I’ll talk about odd people with YouTube channels, people you might not expect to enjoy but maybe you will.

    Jonna Jinton is a lovely woman who lives in a remote area of northern Sweden. Jonna seems more like a fantasy than a real person. She is beautiful. She sings. She paints. She makes jewelry. She dances. She takes photos and records nature sounds. Mostly, Jonna lives an idiosyncratic life that is utterly fascinating to her followers . . . a million and a half people around the world. For a while I thought she might be someone’s idea of a joke, but I’m persuaded she is real. She makes her life into a work of art. When she publicizes it on YouTube, people weep for joy and listen raptly to her charmingly accented English. She practices ancient Swedish activities, like kulning, which involves going out to sing to cattle she doesn’t know. They turn and walk to her. Fun to watch.

    Nate Marling is weird. He knows it. Sometimes he stares into the camera with a crazy scientist expression. His thing is building fishing lures in his garage, and he makes a living doing that. As pretty as the lures are, they’d probably not sell were it not for his dry wit and unpredictable monologues. My favorite Marling posts are the “One Day Challenge” videos. Starting in the morning, he creates a bait and then goes to a nearby creek or lake to catch a fish on that bait before sunset.

    I never expected to like Shawn Woods’ videos, but I’m warming to him. He is an expert on—of all things–mousetraps. Shawn has a barn on his property that is infested with rats and mice, so he has no end of subjects for his experiments. Each Monday he releases a new mouse trap video, and he has no trouble finding fresh traps to field test. He sets up a night vision camera to record mice and rats that encounter his many traps. Shawn is a surprisingly gentle and principled fellow, and his videos are not creepy. We never witness a mouse or rat die. He has 1.31 million subscribers.

    There are many more weird characters on YouTube . . . far weirder than these folks, but maybe this gives you an idea of how YouTube offers strange, unpredictable watching.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Sort of on that same note-
      You may already know about this guy. He’s an engineer and gets involved in some pretty elaborate and wacky projects. This one involving squirrel-proof bird feeders is on the long side but very entertaining.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve seen that video. Can’t believe the amount of time and effort he spent on that. At least he’s focused on not harming the squirrels, though I’m not convinced they weren’t.

        Like

        1. I’ve watched all of Mark Rober’s videos. He used to be a NASA engineer and he only does 12 videos a year. And they are all over -engineered kinds of insanity like the squirrel obstacle course. The best part about the squirrel video was actually the follow up about a week later in which he put up a picture that showed that the squirrels have chewed through the wood of the walnut feeder that he had left at the end of the experiment!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Talking about squirrels, this is note left on the Nextdoor bulletin board a day or two ago but someone in my neighborhood. Edith would be spinning in her grave if she read it.
          “Squirrels. There used to be so many squirrels in my backyard and I loved watching them!! The past two weeks I have seen maybe 3 squirrels max- is this normal for this time of year or is something eating them/ someone poisoning them.

          I miss them!”

          Liked by 1 person

  18. The following was posted by Eric Bogle this morning on Facebook:
    “Fathers Day…I’m posting this song “The Best of Times” on behalf of my mate John Campbell Munro who wrote it for his dad Charlie….at the end of the song John harmonises with an old tape that Charlie made at a family sing song in Glasgow in the late 60’s. We put Charlie singing his bit on a loop to play at our live performance, and to hear John harmonising with his long dead father never failed to bring a lump to the throat and a pang to the heart……..”
    In case you don’t know, John Munro was Eric’s long-time band mate and close friend, and he passed away last year. Both Eric and John were from Scotland, and both immigrated to Australia when in their twenties.
    https://chirb.it/97HD3s?fbclid=IwAR0rcSjxeUjeZ5LRLQjztiIX-ocg56f3ch5dGRBNijmQGDQ4THERFuX6hWU

    Liked by 3 people

  19. One last Father’s Day greeting from me. Sending this out to Steve, Bill, tim, Ben and other baboons who are fathers to daughters:

    Like

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