Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Invisible Man

by Ralph Ellison

In my previous post you may have noticed my fleeting mention of finishing the book because it was required reading for a class.... Invisible Man was also required reading for my Civil Rights Literature class.
This is another book about racism, but it is approached in a completely different manner than Coates' missive. Ellison tells the story of a young black man beginning his journey into manhood. He is leaving the south for a college in NYC. It is in this very first opportunity that his eyes start to open about the stereotypes he will encounter. The novel is very cyclical, the young man enters into a situation, is faced with an expected role he should assume, he fights against it and concludes that these imposed values limit his own personal choices. Ellison inserts his man into most typical life circumstances: college, work, organizations, love and family and portrays the prejudices a black man faces in each. He realizes that these expectations make him invisible and cause him to want to hide. Ultimately however, he understands that the only way to be recognized is to be assertive and proactive in making his voice heard apart from the crowd.

To me, Ellison's writing is empowering to everyone, but especially blacks. He encourages people to be individuals, to take charge in their identity and make a place in the world that is uniquely their own. It is a long book, and due to the regular pattern throughout it can at times feel long, but it is a timeless classic that I'd recommend to all readers. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Between the World and Me

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Before you read this post, know that I am expressing my thoughts and reflections about this book. I am not addressing the injustices perpetrated upon Blacks in America, I am merely considering the thoughts expressed in these writings.

Between the World and Me is a long letter from a black father to his black son and was written in response to the Ferguson, MO police shooting of Michael Brown. This essay has received many rave reviews and has skyrocketed Coates into fame and fortune.
Frankly, I found this letter to be extremely eye-opening, but not for the politically correct reasons Coates is being praised for. I do believe there are many valid points made throughout this narrative, but what spoke to me more than Coates' criticism of  the "people who think they're white" and the "dreamers" was his attitude. I found Coates to be extremely pessimistic, negative and without hope.

I find the blame game offensive and debilitating and divisive. Blame creates victims and victims have no choice about what happens to them. I think it is a shame that Coates is perpetuating victimization of Blacks instead of empowering them! I think it's sad to pass to his son such hopelessness and distrust. I think it's too bad that Coates only rants and raves and is angry about how Blacks are treated, but seems to be telling his son to respond likewise---hate them back!  How can we mend relationships within an atmosphere of hate?

This is a relatively short book and I read it rather quickly, until there were about 30 pages left, and then I hit a wall. I just stopped and didn't want to keep reading. I knew what he was going to say and I didn't want to read it (and I wanted to hope that I was wrong). It was a few weeks before I actually read those final words, and only because it was required reading for a class I was taking.....
And I was correct, it was not a positive message, it was sad and depressing and without hope. I know the history and agree it was a travesty, but I have a hope for a better future, and I wish Coates did too.

Even so, you should probably read it.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Winter in Madrid

by C.J. Sansom

A look at pre WWII Madrid as the country is digging themselves out of their own civil war and Franco is entering into negotiations with Hitler about another bigger war. Into this Harry Brett is sent from Great Britain to spy on an old classmate who is in cahoots with the General. While there, Brett reconnects with another friend who is serving in the Red Cross and on her own mission to rescue a lover from the Spanish concentration camps. Sansom does a good job conveying the people, place, politics, culture and struggles of the period, but it's an overly long Winter in Madrid with a disappointing conclusion.

I've read a number of his books and while he may be wordy, he has a knack for picking interesting times and topics to write about. If you like historical fiction, WWII type stories you'll like this book.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Fates and Furies

by Lauren Groff

Lancelot (Lotto) [a spoiled rich boy and aspiring actor] and Mathilde [an art historian with a sketchy past] meet at a wild college party and are instantly attracted. This attraction leads to a quick marriage, against the wishes of Lotto's mother, who immediately discontinues his financial support and cuts him out of the will [and his sizable inheritance]. Their life is a continuous string of drinking and parties and plays and sex and play writing and deception [but only one of them knows about this aspect] and climbing up the ladder of success. You get to hear about all this fun from Lotto's perspective [Fates] and then Mathilde's [Furies] and see just how differently the two viewed and managed their married life.

I don't know anyone like these people. Perhaps they exist [I suspect only in the movies] but if they are real and you know some of them maybe you'll also gain some insight into marriages. The book is rife with Shakespearian references and very fantastical and quite popular. For me, the fates section dragged but I stuck with it because commenters said it picked up in the furies part, and there did come a moment when I got hooked! Briefly. And then it passed. [but I finished it anyway].

If you noticed my brackets ..... it's something I picked up from Fates and Furies and if you read it you'll see them. Lots. [One word sentences are another winning technique] And these must be winning techniques since it is Amazon's best book of 2015, an NYT bestseller, a National Book Award finalist, and NPR book club selection. I was trying to be a bit neutral in my review since this is such a wildly popular book, and I'd be willing to discuss it with someone who loved it so maybe I could catch the love. But I didn't like it, and then I thought I might, and then I didn't really. I'd recommend it to certain readers, but I'm not sure what type of reader would like Fates and Furies, so I leave it up to you to decide if you're it. [and let me know]