Sunday, August 26, 2018

Last Standing Woman, Winona La Duke

last standing woman cover
“Wazhaskoons eyes still looked past the priest; it was disrespectful to look directly at an individual.
The priest froze. Why would Wazhaskoons not look at him; was he being contentious or rebellious?”
Last Standing Woman, Winona LaDuke, p. 52
Last Standing Woman, by Winona LaDuke, spans seven generations of the Anishinaabeg - from 1862 to 2018. It spans generations of Anishinaabeg trying to live their lives, and white people getting in their way. From treaties, to conflicts with settlers and raiding parties, missionaries and boarding schools, to loan sharks who steal land, and finally the generation who works for justice, to take back their traditional lands, homes, and the artifacts and ancestors that were taken to museums.  It is one thing to read in history books about the effect of colonization on Native Americans, and it is quite another to watch in unfurl before your eyes, and to watch the effect colonization has on families and communities. To watch, for example, two young girls in a sanitarium, the older sister falling asleep and waking up to find her younger sister has died in her arms overnight. It is much easier to read in history books.

The book started out a little slow for me. The names were long, and the shifts between characters, as well as the steady march of time, made it hard for me to connect to the story at first. However, the last half of the book took on a more traditional Western narrative structure, following the occupation of White Earth reservation, and sticking to a few main characters that you got to know for more than a few pages at a time. But this is when the beginning of the book also pays off - because you know so much of their history, you understand the characters’ motivations more deeply.

While reading Last Standing Woman, I was also reading White Fragility, and the parallels between what Robin DiAngelo explains and the actions the white characters were taking in Last Standing Woman were both depressing and fascinating.
“There is a peculiar kind of hatred in the northwoods, a hatred born of living with with three generations of complicity in the theft of lives and land. What is worse is that each day, those who hold this position of privilege must come face to face with those whom they have dispossessed. To others who rightfully should share in the complicity and the guilt, Indians are far away and long ago. But in reservation border towns, Indians are ever-present.”
Last Standing Woman, Winona LaDuke. p 125
Honestly, it made me feel like a bit of an idiot that a book written in 1997 could clearly show the racism that a book published in 2018 has to lay out for us self-proclaimed well-meaning whites. It reinforced that so much of the “study” of racism is just white people opening our eyes to the oppression people of color have felt for generations. You don’t need to explain the nuances of racism to everyone. (Just white people.)
“The idea of racial inferiority was created to justify unequal treatment; belief in racial inferiority is not what triggered unequal treatment. Nor was fear of difference. As Ta-Nehisi Coates states*, “But race is the child of racism, not the father.” He means that first we exploited people for their resources, not according to how they looked. Exploitation came first, and then the ideology of unequal races to justify this exploitation followed.”
White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo. 
*The Case for Reparations, Ta Nehisi-Coates.

All this rambling is not to say that reading Last Standing Woman was the hard work of allyship or activism in some way. I genuinely enjoyed the experience, and will hold Winona LaDuke’s characters in my heart for a long time.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone

Ok I've only just started this book, but I want you to read it with me. It came out January 2nd, and I got to go to the book release party on Saturday and I already know I'm going to want to talk about it, so read it so I can talk to you. Here is a list of why you should read this book, mostly because of the smart things that Rachel said at her book release.

  • Jewish characters written by a Jewish author - we all know diversity is important, when was the last time you read a book with a main character who was Jewish? Ok, but was it written about the Holocaust? 
  • I went to elementary school with Rachel and she was my little buddy at reading time one year and I like to say that she taught me how to read. It is not technically true even a little bit, but I think it's funny.
  • Both main characters are smart, driven high school girls. Rachel talked at the book release about how in high school, at least in her cohort, the smart girls didn't wear makeup - it didn't make sense for girls to be both "girly" and smart. Rachel now loves bright makeup, and wants to write books that undoes some of the false stereotypes from books she read growing up. 
Let me know in the comments/facebook when you start it so we can chat <3

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Beginning: Listening

I don’t know if I ended 2016 thinking of reading more Black authors, or if I read books by Black authors and the impact of those books made me want to read more Black Authors. When I started this blog, I named it “Books I Devour, Books I Savor” because I either read a book in 3-7 days and devour it, or it takes me four months or more to read it. There is no in between. Less than a week, or over four months. That doesn't mean that I like one more than the other, I devour books that are fun and exciting and I savor books that are more complicated, that make me do some work.

The Books That Launched The Journey

I started listening to Americanah as an audiobook, and it took me months to finish. Americanah is a book about people's lives, and I had been devouring YA Dystopian fiction for so long that my brain had to work to keep track of a story that didn't follow The Hunger Games plot structure. There was no Games to set up, prepare for, and fight your way out of. Instead, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes about Ifemelu, a Nigerian-born woman who immigrates to the United States for university. It is a love story, it is a story about race, and it's a story about identity. I loved the love story, as I love all love stories, and devoured the end of the book. The middle, when Ifemelu has immigrated to America and her narration turns to her surprise at how she is perceived by others because of the color of her skin, took me longer to read. I had to chew over some of the concepts brought up, and wonder how I treated my classmates of color, and how I treat my coworkers and friends of color. I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves contemporary fiction.

The next book of the year was The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. I bought it because it had won the National Book Award for Fiction and it was on the list for 2017 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, which it later won. Because I follow things like that. I didn't really want to read it, because my initial reaction was, "ugh, I know about the underground railroad. I went to school." But then I thought, "well, yes, but I also read books about people falling in love and I've also done that. How many books have I read about the underground railroad?" Touche, self. I devoured this book more quickly because it was winter break, and I had the time. Also, because it was a little closer to following The Hunger Games plot line. First, Cora is a slave on a plantation. Then, she find out about the Underground Railroad. Soon, she embarks on the underground railroad, which Whitehead actually imagines as having tunnels with railroad tracks and being literally an underground railroad with stops along the way. On the way North, a lot of crazy stuff goes down. It is such an incredible book, and you should read it.

Then, I decided to give myself a semi-break and read a Jodi Picoult book called Small Great Things. I was skeptical, because Picoult is a white lady and the book was about racism. But I was intrigued because the audiobook was narrated by Audra McDonald, and I figure if it got Audra's stamp of approval, who am I to say it is not good? (Audra McDonald has won like 7 Tony Awards for her acting, and is black. You may remember her from the live Sound of Music, where she played Mother Superior.) And I would say that it is not....bad. It is an interesting and entertaining book. It is a really important read if you think that you can be "colorblind" or if you are curious why people get mad at people who say "All Lives Matter." If you read that sentence and think to yourself, "I am not racist, I don't even see color," definitely read this book. Let's chat. If you are the kind of person who gets mad at people who say "All Lives Matter," you do not need to read this book. This is a book that starts out being about a black lady and ends up being about a white lady who learns about racism. Which is a journey all of us white ladies should go on. But since I'd already embarked on that journey, I got very upset that Picoult ditched her main character when the white lawyer showed up, and you might get mad about that too.

The Plan

So after reading Small Great Things, I was determined. Not determined enough to actually proofread the blog post I posted about Small Great Things, but personally determined. And also, I think, more concerned with my own introspection than sharing that introspection with the world. (Probably because I didn’t get enough attention about my SGT post, and I literally live for attention. Yikes.)

I also had a lot of anxiety. I work with really smart, passionate, and well informed people and I thought, “if I write about this journey, they are going to read this and then they are going to realize that I am a complete idiot.” And I am friends with a lot of really smart, passionate, and well informed people. And honestly, I thought you all had better books and resources than I did and I didn’t need to tell you about my little challenge to myself to read more-but-not-only Black authors. And I was exhausted and by the end of my commute home I didn’t have it in me to read books that challenged me and then write about them in a coherent way. I shared some articles on facebook, and I read, and read, and read.

I also argued on the internet. A lot. Because while I assumed you, my facebook friend reading my book blog, was more intelligent and informed than I was, I did feel the need to step in when I saw posts that I perceived as ignorant. Because I knew that my mind was changing because of what I was consuming, I thought that if I just shared the gospel of Anti-Racism, I could convert those ignorant but well-intentioned souls to the path of Equality. Really, I just got depressed getting into arguments with friends or strangers that got deep enough to show real, underlying, deeply held Racist and/or Sexist beliefs. BUT, I did end up reading a lot, because I refused to share an article without reading the whole thing. And I refused to share articles that I didn’t believe had real merit. So, while I may not have converted anyone, I did grow stronger in my own understanding of what the hell was going on. And had been going on.
So, I read. And I chewed on the ideas in my mind that were developing. I felt helpless, and powerless, and overwhelmed. And I felt completely undeserving of those emotions because I was sitting here, a white lady, on my couch, with my wine, feeling bad about things that I had the privilege to learn about. None of this was happening to me personally. It was affecting a lot of people around me, and I had no idea how to stop it. I have no idea how to make real, dramatic change in this world.

"Before we can challenge racism, before we can dismantle racism, we have to learn to recognize it. We have to develop an understanding of not just the bold acts of racial aggression like we saw this weekend in Charlottesville, but of the daily microaggressions that eventually add up to torch-bearing marchers shouting racists slurs through the streets of America's cities." -  Sadie Trombetta, "17 Books on Race Every White Person Needs to Read" 

What will you read next? 
Currently Reading

Book lists
46 Books By Women of Color to Read in 2018
The Michael Bennett Reading List
17 Books on Race Every White Person Needs to Read

Black Girl Magic: 33 Books Featuring Black Female Protagonists
34 Books by Women of Color to Read This Year (2017)

The First White President, Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Elephant in the Classroom: Segregation in Seattle Public Schools
To many Americans, being patriotic means being white

Let Her Learn
The Danger of a Single Story

Do you have a question or clarification you would like to send me privately, or even anonymously? Would you like to help answer questions I get about your community? Let me know! (Link goes to a google form.)

Happy Reading

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.