Saturday, December 30, 2017

Can I Tell You A Secret?

Last year, instead of the Pop Sugar Challenge, I thought about telling you my real resolution. But I wasn't sure if I could keep it, so I didn't. 

And then I thought about my Resolution and I thought - no - that's not Realistic. I need to make that goal something I can stick to. 

You see, I didn't want to abandon my beloved YA Dystopia/SciFi/Fantasy novels, not entirely. My only real requirement to enjoy a book is that a girl falls in love with a boy.

Or a girl. 

Or a boy with a boy. 

Or a gender non conforming person with a person who does or does not conform to gender binaries. (Although, to be honest, I haven't read that last one yet.) 

To be perfectly honest, the vast majority are girls who fall in love with boys. Often plural. Love triangles run rampant. 

But I digress. My 2017 Resolution. My secret goal? Was to read only Black authors for a year. 

I think it was after I read Small Great Things and near lost my mind with how problematic that book seemed. (Did I post that blog post? Update: I did. But I'm not sure I meant to because it definitely had not been proof read.) ...Will I post this one? I don't know.  As I write this, I can't help but ask that question because I know the truth. I am terrified to write about this. I am afraid that someone will criticize my White Lady Feelings about Black Lives. I'm even more terrified of being somehow congratulated. In fact, I want no one to comment on my feelings about posting this, because how brave is it, really, to post this one blog post? To admit to you that, yes, I made an attempt to read more Black Authors. I was successful,because I forgave myself the original "only" and just said "more." I did that because I was, not afraid. I knew, that the "only" would make reading feel like a chore. And I would quit reading then because I work hard and reading is not my job and reading should not be a chore. 

So I failed at only and succeeded at more. (Has there ever been a year where I read only White Authors? ....How many?)

So what was the point of this experiment to read more-Black-Authors-not-only? Well. I don't know. Trump became president and I thought maybe this small act could change something. Like the guy who threw starfish back into the ocean

Have you heard that story? Dude 1 is walking down the beach and sees a figure approaching. He realizes Dude 2 is bending down and throwing starfish back into the ocean. They'd gotten washed ashore by the tide. Dude 1 asks Dude 2, "what are you doing?" Even though it is obvious, Dude 2 tells him. Then Dude 1 points out the obvious, "but there are thousands of starfish washed up on the shore, do you really think you can make a difference?" Dude 2 bends down, picks up a starfish, and throws it back into the ocean. "I made a difference to that one," he replies. 

Did I make a difference? 

Perhaps no. The ocean, after all, still washes starfish onto the beach with the tide. 

Trump is still president. 


(Here's the real secret, friend.)

I made a difference to me. 

I changed a small stereotype in my head. 

You see, where I grew up all of my teachers were white. Not surprising, approximately 80% of all teachers in the workforce are white

At least, I think they were. My memory is not 100%, so someone may find that to be wrong. They might remember differently. 

Can you think of your stereotype for teacher? 

How about professor? 

I had a professor in undergrad who was the epitome of my personal professor stereotype. 

This professor taught my Honors Humanities class. I thought he was absolutely brilliant. I took all 3 Freshman Honors classes from him, one right after the other. 

He was average-to-tall in height. Had pure white hair that would Einstein out (in my memory. Perhaps his hair was more gray than white. I took this class 10 years ago, you'll have to forgive my memory again). During class conversations, he would lean against the chalkboard, and his sweater with the elbow patches would get smears of chalk down the back. He never seemed to notice. 

He was older, white, and wore sweaters with elbow patches. Is this your stereotype too? 

Well, here's the shift. When you spend a year reading Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram X. Kendi, bell hooks and Michelle Alexander and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, you might notice a shift. 

You, like me, might notice that when you think of "professors" and "expererts" you might picture bell hooks or Ibram X. Kendi. Black may seem more synonymous with expert than it did before. It's hard for me to read Ta-Nehisi Coates and not feel a bit inferior, because he's brilliant. His knowledge of history far surpasses mine. 

Have you figured out the real secret? It wasn't just my resolution. 

The secret is I was racist. 

That is to say, I held racist views. I didn't think I was racist. You might not have thought I was racist. 

I still might be. 

...Are you? 

How does that thought sit with you? Do you get defensive and want to tell me how you're not racist? I get that. Me too. I would like to defend myself. But if I take the time to prove how not racist I am, I am not taking the time to unpack how racist I still am. 

Or ableist. 

Or homophobic. 

More comfortable with cisgender. 

I don't have the words for all that I need to unpack. So I'll read. And I'll listen. And I will unbox and dismantle all that I can. 

I will apologize when I realize I'm wrong. 

Happy reading. I will happily take any suggestions for books written by someone who is not white, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgender, Christian, or living above the poverty line. If you can think of more identities to add to that list, let me know that too. 

(If you want to see the complete list of books I read last year, check out my GoodReads Year in Books it does not include books by 3 of the Black authors I listed, because I haven't finished them. I am a giant poser.) 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Book List For My Bestie

One time my best friend moved two states away and one time we went too long without talking. And then, one day we talked on the phone for two hours and then she said, "So, do you have any book recommendations."

And I gave her like three and then got kind of quiet and she was like, "I should go."

"No," I replied firmly, "I'm sorry I got quiet. I started a Word document of my recommendations for you and opened up Goodreads so I can remember what I read and you asked for book recommendations so you're in this conversation now you can't leave."

"Of course you did."

And if I spent an hour on a book list and I believe that sharing is caring, I should also share it with you. This is definitely a bestie-to-bestie list of books, not a "I am an expert on any of these topics" books, and I would LOVE to add books to these topic lists.

Bestie’s Book List
Feminist Books
·        How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran – funny “modern feminism” (listen to on audible because it’s amazing)
·        all about love: new visions, bell hooks – serious “feminist theory” but really delightful and feels like going to therapy
·        The Color Purple, Alice Walker – fiction, but really good and kinda queer

Anti-Racist? Books (aka books about black people that I think has helped me come to terms with some systemic issues in society)
·        Americanah, Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie – kind of a modern Jane Austen – comments on society, love story, funny, but really long and sometimes drags….
·        The UndergroundRailroad, Colson Whitehead – I looked at it like “ugh I know about the underground railroad” and then realized I’d never (at least since elementary school) read a book about the underground railroad. And it blew. My. Mind.
·        I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, Luvvie Ajayifull disclosure: I’m only like ¼ of the way through this book but I would say it’s kind of a mix of How to Be a Woman & like….more of a magazine/blogger feel? Definitely more about how to be better to women/people including black women which Caitlin Moran might not have included (I literally don’t remember, so probably not).

Romance-y Books
·        My Lady Jane, Cynthia Hand – kind of like The Princess Bride, funny, adventure, SO GOOD
·        A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J. Maas – the first one is not great. And it starts really slowly. But then you realize it’s Beauty and the Beast and then it gets really really amazing like at the end and the second one is so good I read it three times
·        Matched – it’s not good. But it also is? YA Dystopian
·        Heartless, Marissa Meyer – Cinder author, I can’t believe you haven’t read it.
·        Caraval, Stephanie Garber – fantasy, I liked it. Kind of like Night Circus, but I liked it better.

·        I’ll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson – it’s beautiful and I love it. 

Do you love these books too? TELL ME
Do you disagree? TELL ME
Do you want to add on to my list? TELL ME
The only thing I love more than telling you about the books I love is finding more books to love. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Mark of the Mage (3)

Mark of the Mage, by R.K. Ryals
And now for something a bit lighter. The news is depressing enough, I've decided to run away to fantasy land where people may be burned at the stake for being mages BUT on the plus side, it's a work of fiction and I don't need to write a letter about how this is obviously not ok.

First, I want to thank my friend who recommended this book to me, and I want to apologize for not loving it as much as you did. I have a hard time taking it seriously after reading three books in a row about racial/social justice - it's not this book's fault, it's mine.

In the year of the Dragon, a kingdom will be divided. Twins will be born to the sovereign. These male heirs will be greedy. They will seek power. They will war amongst themselves, and their kingdom will be split in two. 

Mark of the Mage is about Drastona, a 16-year-old girl living in Medeisia. In Medeisia, King Raemon has outlawed mages, and they are being systematically rounded up and burned alive at the stake. Mages are born, not made, and midwives have been trained to feel their power at birth and turn them in.

Drastona (Stone for short) is the daughter of the Medeisian Ambassador to Sadeemia, Garod, and wants nothing more than to study to become a scribe. But when King Raemon outlaws scribes and her father is called to King Raemon's court, her life is thrown into chaos. When her maid is burned at the stake for being a mage, Stone is marked as a scribe, and begins to find her own mage's powers as well. Stone is marked once but twice cursed and becomes part of a group of Rebels, meets dragons, and trains to be part of the resistance.

This is the kind of book I like to read in one sitting on a lazy Sunday afternoon. But I didn't finish it in one day so it took me three weeks to finish it because I have a hard time focusing on dragons who can take human form when the actual news is as terrible as it is. Again, that's more of a personal problem. I needed a nice sunny summer day to read this, not ground zero of the resistance. And it is still a little too close to home. In Medeisia, mages and scribes are branded, hence "mark of the mage," which seemed a little ridiculous. But here in the real world we've seen people branded (Nazi's made Jew's wear stars, and eventually tattooed ID numbers on their arms), and America's banning Muslims fleeing terror, or working for the country, from enterering or re-entering the country. So maybe my problem isn't that Mark of the Mage is too fluffly or far-fetched, but that it's too close to home without giving me steps to fight back. In books, evil is fought with swords and magic. I don't have swords or magic, only pens and the internet, but I want to be part of the Resistance too.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Small Great Things (4)

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult

It seems more than perfect that I am writing this on the day after the historic Womxn's March. A march that fundamentally asked the nation to listen to those less privileged.
"In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us." - Women's March
In Small Great Things, we are introduced to Ruth Jefferson, the only person of color in the labor and delivery ward of her hospital. Ruth doesn't like to think about how the color of her skin affects how others treat her, at least not the way that her sister Adisa, shouts about it all the time. But one day, Ruth starts her shift by caring for a newborn and his mother, Brittany When Ruth begins to help Brittany nurse baby Davis, his father asks to speak to her supervisor. The family are white supremacists, and they do not want a person of color caring for any of them. But when Ruth is left alone with the baby, she has to face some quick decisions. Decisions that ultimately lead to a

And so begins what is being considered a "remarkable achievement, tackling race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn't offer easy answers." (Goodreads). 

 I decided to listen to this book solely because Audra McDonald was listed as the narrator and I love her.

Audra McDonald, winner of six Tony's and one of the most interesting people to follow on twitter

In the "pro" column:
- I finished this 16 hour audiobook in about 3 days. I NEEDED to know what was going to happen. 
-It is a good primer on current race relations - think Racism 101: What is privilege?

In the afterward, Picoult talks about her personal journey to write this book, and her purpose for writing this book. She says that she wanted to write a book about race for awhile, and felt uncomfortable as a white lady discussing racism. She decided, finally, to write a book for her fans - white ladies - about racism. She definitely did her research and confronted her biases and privilege. I hope her readers will do the same. I hope that people who read this book don't just applaud Kennedy for confronting her own brand of "colorblind" racism without reconsidering a bit of what they think. 

Around midnight I was listening to the story and wrote myself the note, "if you think this is going to to be a book about a woman of color, you'd be right. Until her white defense attorney is introduced and then it becomes a story of the white girl confronting her racism and really the woman of color saved HER!" And I think that's the only way I can sum up my thoughts on this book. Like, yes, I needed to know how it ended. But this story is only groundbreaking if you like to write #AllLivesMatter. We all have more work to do. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Underground Railroad (5)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad follows Cora, from her days as a field hand on the Randall plantation to her experience escaping on the Underground Railroad. Whitehead imagines the Underground Railroad as a literal railroad built underground. You got to see her grow from someone who is treated like a sub-human, who is hopeless, who is alone to someone who gets to experience freedom and begins to be able to trust others and build relationships and create a life and future for herself.

I had heard about The Underground Railroad when it won the National Book Award last year. And I thought to myself, well I know a fair amount about the Underground Railroad. I learned about it in school. Why is this book important now? And then I read it and realized oh, I may have a broad picture of what life was like under slavery or what sort of dangers someone who worked on the underground railroad may have faced but I did not take into consideration the specific impact being a slave or working on the underground railroad could have had on a person's life. I never thought about which means I never really thought about what the historical impact of slavery really has on today's society.

After reading it i'm left thinking about how much things haven't changed. I don't think it's enough to say "slavery is over" if we haven't really looked at the impact slavery had on everyone - both white and black - in the system. If you grow up being treated like property because of the color of your skin, that affects you. And as generations pass and, let's be honest, white people keep fighting to make sure you are being treated as less than them from legal segregation to the current #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMatter debate. I wonder when, and if, and how we can work as a society to actually treat everyone equally.

So much of The Underground Railroad showed how afraid white people were of the black people they were subjugating. This fear lead to more and more atrocities being committed against people who were just trying to be alive.
"True, you couldn't treat an Irishman like an African, white n***** or no. There was the cost of buying slaves and their upkeep on one hand and paying white workers meager but livable wages on the other. The reality of slave violence versus stability in the long term. The Europeans had been farmers before; they would be farmers again. Once the immigrants finished their contracts (having paid back travel, tools, and lodging) and took their place in American society, they would be allies of the southern system that had nurtured them." (Whitehead, p 164) 

5/5 - Changed the way I think about the world while being interesting and entertaining from cover to cover. Heartbreaking and powerful.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Americanah (4.5)

A short note...
Americanah is a lovely, satisfying book. If I had to compare it to something else I've read, I would say Americanah is most like a Jane Austen novel. If Jane Austen was a modern woman born in Nigeria and living in the U.S.

Ifemelu is Nigerian-born, lives in America, and blogs about race. The story follows her decision to move back to Nigeria with frequent meanderings back to the past to show why she chose to come to America and, perhaps, why she wants to return home. Leaving Nigeria meant finding opportunity as a student and as a writer, but it also meant leaving Obinze, her boyfriend and, perhaps, love of her life.

My first experience with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was watching her TEDTalk "The Danger of a Single Story," as part of my grad school program. Which is great and you should totally watch it.