What I’ve Been Reading

What I’ve Been Reading–1984

Posted by on Apr 26, 2017 in What I've Been Reading | 0 comments

teaserbox_27680941Call me a cliche, but I did what so many other people are doing these days–I read George Orwell’s 1984. Somehow, it was one of those classics I never managed to get to, despite an English major and a career in literature. (I never read The Illiad either. I admit it. I only recently got around to Middlemarch.)

So much was chilling, so much was eerily familiar. If you’ve read it, you don’t need me to go into it–the glorification of war, the vicious hates that transfer all critical thinking and all criticism away from the powers-that-be onto vague, nebulous, ever-changing others. And of course, the doublethink. Mexico will pay for the wall, but they won’t, but they will. War is peace. Obama bugged Trump Tower, but he didn’t, but he did. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

And yet…somewhere in there I found a sliver of hope. No, really.

Winston Smith is not a very heroic hero. He isn’t terribly brave. (Julia is much bolder). He’s not all that smart. (All his instincts about people are completely wrong.) He doesn’t actually accomplish anything.

All he has going for him is some basic humanity. A joy in rare physical comfort and glimpses of beauty–the smell of real coffee, the clouded loveliness of old glass. A sense of the past as something that actually existed. Brief love shared with a woman. These are small things.

But look at what the Thought Police and the Ministry of Love have to do to get him to surrender. Look at what he endures. It takes hours and days and actually years of brutal mental and physical torture before all that is good in Winston is ground down to nothing. He’s a simple man, an ordinary man, just one man–and it takes all their resources to undo him.

Humanity dies, but it doesn’t die easily.

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What I’ve Been Reading

Posted by on Dec 2, 2016 in Race, What I've Been Reading | 0 comments

51vnbkgbal-_sx334_bo1204203200_Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

Rita Williams-Garcia got a lot of attention for One Crazy Summer but I think this follow-up is even stronger. Three sisters, growing up in the sixties, head down to Alabama to spend the summer with their grandmother and great-grandmother.

With the election and the news and the Black Lives Matter movement and the bewildering fact that, in 21st century America, armed white men can be acquitted for taking over public property while black teens can be shot for wearing a hoodie while buying Skittles, race has been much on my mind lately, especially since I’m a white mother raising a child of color. Maybe that’s why this book struck such a deep note with me, as Fern, Vonetta, and Delphine learn more and more about exactly what their family is–African-American, sure, but also Native American and white and complicated and painful and flawed and lonely and ever-changing, in the end, together no matter how much it hurts.

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What I’ve Been Reading: The Misfits

Posted by on Aug 27, 2014 in Children's Literature, What I've Been Reading | 0 comments

Charming. James Howe creates real characters, real kids, and vivid real-life problems. Perhaps the ending is a bit too fairy-tale good, but who am I to complain when it’s so satisfying?

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What I’ve Been Reading: Wonder

Posted by on Aug 27, 2014 in Children's Literature, What I've Been Reading | 0 comments

My name is August, by the way. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

This is worth every bit of the hype. Far and away my favorite piece of sabbatical reading so far. I’m a big fan of Cynthia Lord’s Rules, which deals with a boy with autism and his older sister, but I actually think that R. J. Palacio actually provides a stronger, more vivid, more honest look at what it means and feels like to grow up other than “normal,” to have a sibling or a friend or a student who is not “normal.”

This is one of those books that is hard for me, as an adult, to read. It’s difficult to shed my adult impulses to protect and shelter Auggie from all the cruelty, intentional and unintentional, that he encounters every day as he leaves his sheltered, homeschooled life and starts fifth grade. Like his mom, I want to keep this kid safe forever. But that’s one of the ways the author succeeds so brilliantly–in letting Auggie suffer but also letting his courage show through. His story is bearable in part because he is so strong, and also in part because he’s surrounded by a cast of flawed but loving characters who help him through (and grow themselves as well).

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