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.