Black Lives Matter and the Cost of Silence

As a white man, I am not writing this because I think I have a special insight that can’t be found elsewhere. I am writing this because 1) I have a platform, 2) to promote Black voices, and 3) to take responsibility. I will highlight things that I think are important but for the purpose of encouraging you to check out the various resources I’ve provided. A lot of this will be Booktube content, but I use them because they are completely reflective of society as a whole. I started this post with a video of Kimberly Jones, the author of “I’m Not Dying with You Tonight,” discussing the problem with the system and why the riots/protests/property damage are not the problem. If anything, they speak to the severity of the problem. What’s more, it was beautiful, profound, and devastating. Please watch it.

Silence and the Power of Social Media

Now lets talk about silence and complicity. People don’t want to talk about this. Why? Because they’re uncomfortable. They’re uncomfortable because they don’t know what to say or don’t want to say the wrong thing. Well, if you don’t know what to say, do same damn research. White Fragility (check that book out, I still need to read it), isn’t an excuse not to talk. You’re going to make mistakes. I continue to do that. Just the other day, I made a comment about our responsibility and described it in a way that perpetuated a white savior complex which goes right back to white supremacy and this idea of superiority. Obviously, that isn’t what I think, or maybe my ingrained prejudices have subconsciously made me think that. The fact is, consciously, I know it isn’t true. What I intend doesn’t matter when what I say and do feed into the ideas of white supremacy and oppression. I’ve used that phrase to a lot of people, and white fragility leads a lot of us to jump to the defense. We know we don’t want to be racist, so we assume that is enough. We have to take responsibility for what we say and do and that takes work and a desire to learn and listen.

However, learning is only the beginning. Another thing Francina (the booktuber in the video) touches on is the power of social media. Those of you who haven’t shared/said even the slightest thing, I’ve noticed. I can’t make you speak out, but if you are reading this, please recognize we have to do more. Now before I go on, I recognize social media isn’t a direct reflection of what someone is doing to support. Support can be shown through donations, petitions, and protesting, and complications in life happen too that may prevent you from being as active as you’d like to be. I say this to encourage self reflection on if you’re doing enough not to pass judgment. Social media is just one small way to make a difference.

Social media, even before Covid, has become the center of some many of our lives. It shapes how we see the world (e.g. Russian bots), and because of that, it’s a powerful tool. While it is a useful means of listening and learning, it is also an opportunity to share voices that some people aren’t exposed to. It is also a way to spark a conversation. Fundamentally, it is about getting people to listen.

Being Ignored and the importance of listening

Understanding racism is to understand the oppressed. That means we have to listen to Black voices. Looking back, we can see how support for Black Lives Matter has evolved. Look at everything that is happening, all because more people are listening and believing. One question that Ashley (I’m unsure about the spelling) poses is “Why now?” She doesn’t believe us. We sit here showing support but history shows it’s fake. History shows we speak up when it’s trendy, and go away when it is not. Again, I doubt few of us would say we intentionally would do that, but intent and actions are not the same. We have to recognize our silence. We have to ask why, and we have to be aware of how easy it is to let it just fade into the background (because we have the privilege to do that; black people can’t escape it so easily). I still don’t know why now is the moment people are listening. I wish I knew.

Support for BLM with time.

The closest answer I could come to seems to be the one Ashley gives: we are afraid of being called out, afraid of being shamed. I know I am ashamed. I think back to when BLM first arose; I considered myself an ally (a term we have not right to assign ourselves). In reality, I was, at best, complicit, at worst actively fighting against it. Both are just as bad. In my years here at Western, my best friend has accused me of racism, more than once. My first reaction is to get defensive, deny, reject, and gas light. I owe her an apology. Yes, I am ashamed but not because of how it makes me look; I’m ashamed of the harm I have put into the world, even on the people closest to me. I don’t say this looking for forgiveness or a pat on the back. Yes I am ashamed. That may have been what made me care enough to listen, but that doesn’t do jack-shit to fix the problem.

1 Being an ally and what we have to do to help
2 Being an ally and making a difference

I can sit here all day and cry about the bad I’ve done, but the point of self reflection is to figure out how to fix the problem. Diana, from the second video on being an ally, summed it up pretty well. Racism isn’t a black problem, it’s a white problem. We started it. We benefit from it. It’s up to us to fix it. Black people have been fighting racism for centuries because their resilient, strong, and capable; it’s on us to decide if we stand on the side of oppression or the side of equality.

Speaking up and joining the conversation is the first step. The other is calling people out; friends, coworkers, and family. Any time, any place. Speak up. This isn’t about politics; it is about basic human rights. I also intend to listen. Too often black voices are ignored, but I know as a white man, I can’t understand without listening because my experience is so fundamentally different than what it is for Black people and other POC. But more than that, I was raised by a system that taught me I should benefit from discrimination and oppression. I can easily sit here and say, “I don’t stand for that!” But that doesn’t change the fact that it is ingrained into my psyche and the society I live in.

That is why it is all the more important that we listen and believe Black people and other POC (Western students, check out the amazing memoir by an alumni of our own University, Eternity Martis). Then we use that to support them; stop supporting racist people and organizations that contribute to the oppression. Stop being silent. Lastly, vote and fight for systematic change.

I want to finish this post off with two videos from TikTok. I know many of you may scoff, but these highlight how powerful social media can be. In this first video we see a strong yet succinct message of how white people ignore Black people. Then we see a performance of a piece that references all the harm and fear the Black community has to experience. Like the first video I shared, it stresses the pain that is being felt.

September Update 2020

The more time passes the more I realize I don’t know. The biggest thing I realize is I need to listen more. There is a difference between promoting black voices and talking for them. Despite my intentions, I’ve continued to do harmful things, but it is an ongoing effort.

Resources

Support BLM: https://blacklivesmatter.com/

National Action Against Police Brutality Petition : https://www.change.org/p/national-act…

Victims Funds : https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#v…

Justice for Breonna Taylor Fund : https://www.gofundme.com/f/9v4q2-just… Bail Funds : https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#s…

NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund : https://www.naacpldf.org/

Ahmaud Arbery Fund : https://www.gofundme.com/f/i-run-with…

Minnesota Based Black Visions Collective : https://www.blackvisionsmn.org/about

Read and Learn

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racism in America by Ibram X. Kendi, available on Spotify in its entirety.

White Fragility by Robin Diangelo

White Rage by Dr. Carol Anderson

How to Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

Here is another list of amazing resource of ways to educate yourself created by @Autumn_Bry

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison β­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈβ­οΈΒ½

Read 2/6/20 and Reread 2/6/20 – 2/7/20

After reading this, I immediately stopped and started it over again. Toni Morrison is an author I have wanted to read for years, and the only reason I never got around to it was a fear of not being able to comprehend these complicated works of literary fiction. Luckily, I really enjoyed this book. By the end of my first read through, I will admit I felt like I missed some details. I was able to ascertain the overarching points and narrative, but I was still confused a bit by whose who but more so the structure of the novel. The book is presented at points in first person by a seemingly side character. Later, it gives another first person perspective, and a lot of the book in between is third person.

As you might imagine, that was difficult to follow and keep up with. While it may be a disappointing to my past literature teachers, I choose to review some readings aids after I finished the first time to figure out the things I was missing. After I did that, it made a lot more sense. My improved understanding coupled with a genuine desire to get as much as I could out of this novel motivated me to reread the novel. Admittedly, I listened to the audiobook, so it made it easier but also likely made it harder for me to catch all the details the first time around. Although, I think the beauty of audiobooks is that, if you have the time and enjoy the experience (which I did), rereading can be both fun and a great way of retaining more and more details about the books.

The book itself is written beautifully. I could appreciate the poetry in her Morrison’s words even if I struggled to pull all of the meaning, and rereading it helped me better ascertain the meaning. That kind of writing really lends itself to this kind of story. That is to say, a dark narrative about the pain induced by racism and how it can decay a person’s mental health. In this book, we focus on a young black girl whose desperate desire is to have the blue eyes of the white girls she sees being so admired. This is brought on by racism but also hatred and bullying by other minorities for her perceived status and family “ugliness”.

In my video review, I discuss how this racism is still alive today. Despite being set in the great depression, the novel feels all too modern in its content. It is a hard novel to read both mentally and emotionally. Nevertheless, I highly recommend you check it out. There is a reason this novel is so well regarded. It touches on major societal issues in a way that hits you to your core. I highly recommend to everyone.

In the end, I gave the book 4 stars the first time andΒ 4.5./5 starsΒ the second time.

Rating Break Down
Writing Style: 9/10
Plot: 8/10
Characters: 10/10
Ending: 10/10
Engagement: 8/10
Enjoyment: 9/10
Comprehension: 8/10
Pacing: 9/10
Desire to Reread: 3/10
Special: 10/10
Calculated Rating: 4.255/5
Final Rating: 4.5/5 (3.5-4/5 originally)
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance to calculate a final score that is rounded to the nearest half. 

The Girl From Nowhere by Eliska Tanszer β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…Β½

I was granted an e-ARC of The Girl From Nowhere by Eliska Tanszer by the publisher Mirror Books on NetGalley to provide a fair and honest review.

Read 1/23/20 to 1/31/20

This was one of the first books I choose from NetGalley, and I chose it because the cover seemed interesting. As the deadline approached, I sort of lost interest. Part of it was how obscure it is; this is a book that isn’t even being published in North America (based on the available information). However, I said I would review it, so I made a point to at least try. I am beyond happy that I did. I loved pretty much everything about this book.

I could tell within the first 10 pages that I loved her writing. It is dark and vulgar, and it really encapsulated the ton and setting of the story she was telling (it also seems like just normal conversation). The hardest part of a book is ensuring it can pull me in. If that doesn’t happen, I will have a very hard time focusing and retaining information. Tanszer’s writing pulls me in an enjoying and engaging manner. Now, I won’t pretend it is easy to read.

There are parts where I cringed at how Tanszer would minimize or explain away the terrible things her parents did to her. In the end, I got the impression she was articulating her feelings at the time because by the end of the story we have a very good picture of her relationship with them. I really appreciated how she articulated the complexities of her relationship with her family. It is so toxic, but she seems to always hold out hope that they truly care.

Her story is inspiring because it is one of persistence. What’s more, she recognizes her way to a better life is by learning. Learning and proving she is more than so many people would have her be. That was a feeling I could relate to. I don’t mean to suggest people think little of me or that my life is the same as hers, but my love of learning is, in a way, me trying to move up the societal ladder. I really connected to and enjoyed that aspect of the story. I recommend this memoir. 4.5/5 stars

Rating Break Down
Writing Style: 9/10
Content: 10/10
Structure: 10/10
Summary: 10/10
Engagement: 10/10
Enjoyment: 9/10
Comprehension: 9/10
Pacing: 9/10
Desire to Reread: 0/10
Special: 7/10
Final Rating: 4.405/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance (see blog for more details).

Kindred by Octavia Butler β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

Originally Read March 2015 (General Thoughts)

In March 2015, I read Kindred, after years of wanting to read it. It was the year of women; I had become aware of my bias for men authors and dedicated 2015 to reading only women. In doing so, I read what would come to be my favorite book of all time (let alone the decade). This book had everything I love in a book: real characters, a dark premise, time travel, and addressed serious societal topics. In particular, I am very interested in the discussion of slavery and race because it is such an important part of American history. Even more so, it is a significant part of southern history, and as a white man I believe I have a responsibility to understand the atrocities of the past that is very much a part of my history.

It is next to impossible to tell somewhat what your favorite thing is. Favorite movie, show, or book. Every time I am asked this kind of question, I find my mind racing. Nevertheless, a few possible candidates always come to mind, and for me, more often than not, Kindred was always one of those that never left my mind. When I read it, I felt liked I loved it, but so much about how you read a book can be situational. That is, the mindset you are in at the time. I’ve always been hesitant to call a book I’ve read once, an all time favorite. There are other books I’ve read countless times, yet I still don’t feel like they are the absolute best book ever.

When I read this, I loved it. In fact, I have the draft of a blog post I started to make to talk about this book–something I had never done. I’ve since considered going back and writing this discussion, but I wanted to wait until I had reread it. Over the summer, I came across the Graphic Novel Adaption for this book, and I knew I had to have it. I read it this fall, but before I did, I started rereading the main novel in October. I got about a third of the way and stopped (I started it on a road trip with friends). I decided to finish it the last day of the decade because it seemed fitting. I am so glad I did. This reread cements this book as an all time favorite. Not just of the decade but of all time.

Reread October 2019 and December 31st, 2019

The first thing I love about this is Butler’s writing. It is easy to read and get lost in the world she develops. One of the few problems with the Graphic Novel was the pacing. It felt like it jumped or skipped details. Butler has created a fast paced novel, and by the end, it’s hard to imagine how quickly we’ve made it through everything in the book. Still, the book never feels rushed. Butler was a master writer and one of the most creative writer’s of the modern era.

The most important part of the book is how well Butler is able to bring to life something so many people mistakenly assume is in the distant past. She explores the nature of racism by following the a young man as he grows up to become his father. People are not born racist. Racism is learned. Nothing is more obvious in than that. Although, Butler makes use of this story to address common problems that still exist today. From the words we use to what people are willing to tolerate.

One thing I absolutely adored in this was how Butler focused so much on the strength and courage of all the slaves who lived in the past. Dana, the main protagonist, discusses how she just doesn’t have what it takes to survive long term. That is, there is only so much she can take. That is not a fault of hers; it is a recognition of how different things are these days. It also highlights how truly atrocious America was. The laws we had to the actions we made. Despite this, it doesn’t stop Dana from taking every opportunity she has to help slaves learn or do things they aren’t supposed to do. Regardless how scared she may be, she recognizes a moral obligation to act if you can. That is a message that is very important for everyone. If you can push back against atrocities, you have to do so.

Lastly, I wanted to discuss religion in the context of slavery and morality. I recognize, most readers are probably religious (most people are). However, slavery is the perfect example of how religion has been used to justify moral atrocities. Many say religion isn’t perfect, but it offers us moral guidance. To which I say, no, it does not. Religion is an authority, created by man for man. Morality is more than a command; morality is a conscious effort to do better by asking about how our actions effect others. The bible is full of guidance that can be twisted any way you like. Morality requires more. If you feel confident in your actions and choices, you should be able to demonstrate without referring to an objective authority figure. It is this kind of thinking that paves the way for slavery and other atrocities.

I love this book. I recommend it to everyone. 5/5 stars.

The God Delusion: 10 Years Later

This book had a profound effect on me. I don’t want to pretend it is the singular reason I became an atheist; that was a series of things that had morphed my beliefs as I entered young adulthood. What this novel did was open my eyes to the world of nonbelievers of which I lacked any real knowledge of.

I recall meeting two people in high school once who told me nonchalantly that they were atheist. Of course, they seemed so nice and so normal. I was so confused. I asked why? They had no good reason, so I went on believing. Perhaps, had they actually put thought into what the believe, I would have stopped believing sooner. Sadly, I didn’t. It took a long time for me to appreciate the level of uncertainty and debate around the concept of a god. This novel was a pivotal part of that revelation.

On Goodreads, I rated this 4/5 stars, but I decided not to feature that here because I read it so long ago. I thought this was a good opportunity to share my thoughts on religion and Dawkins as a whole.

The novel worked for me: someone curious about religion, what they believe, and pretty much on the edge of disbelief. I had become a very liberal christian. Public school mixed with the literature I read in school (and on my own) had really began to challenge my perception of morality. More specifically, I was struggling with the idea of evil and the nature of beings influencing their actions. For example, is Grendel (of Beowolf) an evil monster or simply a creature who was doing what he was born to do. His incompatibility with the surrounding village was clear, but that doesn’t mean he should be punished for all eternity. Ideally, he (it?), like a wild animal, ought to have the chance to live on his own, in a way that won’t conflict with the lives of humans.

When I was finally faced with the notion that religion is not the default (in fact, it is an outrageous notion if we think about it) I fell victim to an emotional swapping of sides. It took a great deal of time for me to settle on my final, agnostic atheist position (a disbelief acknowledging ones inability to know) with a gnostic atheism towards specific gods with outright falsifiable claims attributed to them.

That took a long time. I even went through a period of deism (a greater disconnected higher power), and a period of asshole atheism. I am sure there are some who would say I am still that. However, I no longer go out of my way just to get people riled up about religion (usually). That said, I don’t think it’s not my responsibility to “respect” a religion or a religious practice. I am not a member of said religion, so don’t expect me to acknowledge it. That is to say, people get offended by the mere notion that I don’t believe it. If speak ill of their god or religious figures, they take it as a personal attack. I’ll respect your right to practice your religion however you see fit, but understand, me blaspheming Jehovah or Allah is no more immoral than me blaspheming Zeus.

In any case, when I discuss the topic of belief with people, I’ve come to appreciate the problem of religion lies less on theism itself, but rather a lack skepticism and logical way of thinking. It is also easier to address minor things like how someone approaches a problem rather than trying to undermine a fundamental belief. If a person can abide by logical reasoning in everyday life, recognizing their religion is held to a separate, lower, standard, then I am all for it. In practice, I have don’t have much faith in most people to be able to do such a thing. That said, there are some. I know of one scientist, communicator, and skeptic Dr. Pamela Gay is one such person. Even if it is a failed endeavor, the approach is still more likely to do at least a bit of good, if not what I would consider the ideal result.

That is where I think this book fails. It relies so heavily on the emotional side of the debate. Granted, there are some valid points, but atrocities of religion is not evidence against a creator (maybe an all good creator). I would recommend the Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan to most people in search of informative ways of thinking. The ideas and principles of that book should lead you to the same, or similar, conclusion. What’s more, it is a measured approach to pseudoscience and religion.

The last thing I want touch on are the problems with this author. Dawkins is an excellent scientist, but his atheism pushes on racism. There is a difference in attacking the institution than the people themselves. He is also a misogynistic asshole. Perhaps that influenced my own atheistic asshole phase. Overall though, take this work with a grain of salt. Sure, most of what he says is fair, so far as I can remember, but it isn’t the best way of convincing anyone who hasn’t already taken themselves part of the way. Nor does it promote a good approach to handling religion either.

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, Damian Duffy (Adapted) β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

Started 11/22/19

Over four years ago, I read Kindred by Octavia Butler. It was my first time reading any of her work, and it quickly made her one of my favorite authors of all time. I hate to say I haven’t read as much of her work now as I would have liked to, but I’ve read a few and want to read more. That said, nothing she wrote will ever beat the masterpiece that is Kindred.

Kindred tells the story of a modern day black woman who is transported back to the antebellum south. She is drawn to a young white boy who continuously gets himself in danger and is in need of her help. Kindred is such a profound work of fiction because it uses Butler’s amazing imagination and creativity to simultaneously engage the reader while also forcing them to better appreciate the true horrors of slavery and racism. I can not speak highly enough of Butler, her writing, or her ability to tackle serious issues. All I can say is, if you haven’t read this, please do! Of all the books I’ve read, this is the one I’d probably push above all others.

For years, I’ve watch anxiously in hopes that it might be adapted into a film or TV series. Sadly, that has yet to happen. There is plenty to say about how such an amazing piece of work can go adapted given how frequently they happen, but this is not about that. That’s because we now have, not a film, but something in between. With this new graphic novel adaption, we can experience this amazing story in a brand new form.

Finished 11/30/19

I wish I could say I reread the novel before I started this, but I only read the first couple parts before I finally got around to starting this graphic novel. That gives me a unique perception of this story as I can compare the parts I recently read and see what other parts are like without being recently exposed to it. I definitely noticed the abridgment early on. As I passed what I had read, it became less obvious, but even then there were parts that felt oddly structured. Sometimes, transitions are abrupt skipping or shortening what calls for more time. In the end though, I think it is worth it. I get it takes sacrifices to be able to adapt this entire novel.

The fact is, it is abridged, so it just isn’t capable of covering the same material as effectively. For that reason, it isn’t as good as the original novel. That said, the content is still amazing. I don’t think you can judge the overall quality of the graphic novel for how it stands up against the original. The original did it better, but this is still an outstanding rendition. There is so much art here that brings this material to life on a much deeper level. We have the visceral descriptions (for the most part) of Butler coupled with the art of John Jennings. The art, by the way, is fine; I don’t have much of an opinion there. In the end, it works. It brings her work to a new level.

To me, the dream rendition of this would be an illustrated adaption of the entire novel, incorporating the art used here. Hell, maybe you (or I) could listen to the audiobook while following along in the graphic novel. I’ll also settle for a film/TV adaption as well :). Until then, I highly encourage you to read Kindred and this new Graphic Novel. 5/5 stars

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

Read 11/21/19 – 11/24/19

The 15 Suggestions

  1. Be a full person.
  2. Do it together.
  3. Teach her that ‘gender roles’ is absolute nonsense.
  4. Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite.
  5. Teach Chizalum to read.
  6. Teach her to question language.
  7. Never speak of marriage as an achievement.
  8. Teach her to reject likeability.
  9. Give Chizalum a sense of identity.
  10. Be deliberate about how you engage with her and her appearance.
  11. Teach her to question our culture’s selective use of biology as ‘reasons’ for social norms.
  12. Talk to her about sex and start early.
  13. Romance will happen so be on board.
  14. In teaching her about oppression, be careful not to turn the oppressed into saints.
  15. Teach her about difference.

This is one of the books I chose to read for Buzzwordathon 5.0, and you can read more about why I choose Dear Ijeawele there! I originally intended to make this a summary of the fifteen suggestions, but I decided not to do that about halfway through. It’s why I didn’t finish the book in one day; I was trying to discuss it as I listened.

Needless to say, I scrapped everything I had written. I did that because I realized it wasn’t necessary. This is a very short book with pages the size of my palm. Some of these suggestions are a page or less long. None of this is a bad thing. In fact, I think it is perhaps the biggest reason for everyone to read it!

I really enjoyed this book. It is a collection of suggestions that Adichie is giving her friend or cousin (I don’t remember which) on how to raise her daughter to be a feminist. Some of it may seem obvious, but Adichie frames each point in a very persuasive and easy to understand way.

You don’t need to be Nigerian to read this. You don’t need to be a mother or even a parent. These suggestions convey why everyone should be a feminist. It reminds us why we do this, and it offered me a clear guide to strive toward. I highly recommend it to everyone.

I will be buying it as Christmas gifts for several people in my family. I can see them scoffing at first, but I think it is short enough and open enough that hey might actually pick it up and learn something. Reading the list above isn’t enough. The context she provides is worth studying. I’ve already reread half of the book and intend to continue it to completion. Needless to say, it gets a solid 5/5 stars.

Gather Together in My Name, by Maya Angelou β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†

Introduction ~9/13/19

A few years ago I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of Dr, Maya Angelou’s Autobiography series. I did it during a year where I read only woman authors. I was familiar with Dr. Angelou; how could I not be. She is a legend after all. Unfortunately for me, I had avoided the Caged Bird because I am not usually too into autobiographies. Except, Dr. Maya Dr. Angelou presents her life in a fictional retelling that is both beautiful and gripping. It ended up being one of my favorite books of the year, if not of all time. Dr. Angelou writes in a way that is poetic and characters that are real. As an autobiography, realness may be expected, but the real surprise comes from the honest and openness with which she presents her life. It is hard not to fall in love with it. I wish I was more fluent in writing styles to say exactly what it is about her writing that makes it so unique, but it is unlike anyone else I’ve read.

I have always wanted to continue this series, but for so long all I’ve ever read (for pleasure) is via audiobooks. I tried so hard to find these on audio–audible, CD, and even tape. Unfortunately, the 6th entry in the series is the only other book on audio, and that’s abridged. Therefore, I am doing the unprecedented and actually reading the physical book. I do not want to be deprived of this series just because it isn’t on audio. I am nearly 30; I have plenty of time to read these if I set my mind to it. It may take me 40 minutes to read 10 pages of a mass market paperback. These are short books. What’s more, I hope this will improve my reading speeds (though I read a good bit in middle and high school and yet I am still slow).

I will finish this book. I am forcing myself to read at least one chapter a day/night. These are at times a page or two long, so it really is the bare minimum. However, it is rare that I don’t read multiple chapter, and even when I don’t, it is only my own poor time management skills that prevent me. Every time I start this book, I am amazed at how quickly she can pull me in, even in only a page or two. That is the power of Dr. Maya Dr. Angelou’s writing. Lastly, I hope to use this to prove to myself I can read physical books. There are plenty of other great stories I don’t read because of their not being on audio.

Update 9/18/19

I am writing this the same day as my introduction because I didn’t want to write about this if I wasn’t going to get invested first. I am about 35 pages in, maybe 20%, and it is amazing. I am happy that I finally re-immersed myself into Dr. Angelou’s works in part because it is so great, but also because it reassures me that my initial praise of the Caged Bird was justified. I mentioned before the realism, and that is all to present. Dr. Angelou walks us through her transition to adulthood, warts and all. This as much a story about survival as it is about learning. I suppose the question then becomes how can I learn from Dr. Angelou’s life. I may be a decade older, but I still have so much to learn.

Update 9/23/19

I am more than half way now through the novel (57%). I am loving this book. I actually read well over my personal requirement over the weekend as I relaxed at a nice cottage in northern Ontario. Dr. Maya Angelou is just a gem. Her writing still stands out as unlike anyone else I’ve read. There are moments I am infuriated and others I just laugh out load at the absurdity. What’s more, I am learning so much more about Dr. Angelou. There is something about her persona that made her almost godlike or angelic (angel is in her name), but she takes us to even the darkest parts of her younger years. She was a good women who did what she could to survive and take care of her son, but she also had prejudices and did some questionable things. Of course, Dr. Angelou never explicitly says she regrets these things. For all intents and purposes this isn’t her writing it, this is like any other novel with the protagonist giving their thoughts, as they see it. It provides a level of realness that is gripping but also inspiring. It is nice to see people we look up to are human; they too have made mistakes. The road to their success isn’t what we may think.

Finished 11/12/19

Up to this point, I have discussed everything I love about Maya Angelou and her autobiographies. The back of my copy says “Maya Angelou writes like an angel who has paid her dues in hell,” and I think this perfectly conveys the tone of the novel. Her writings are beautiful and moving. As I have said before, it is comforting to know that Angelou hasn’t lived a perfect life. She is someone who a lot of people look up to, myself included, and she shows how life is a process of mistakes and learning. All we can ever do is our best, admitting our mistakes along the way.

I am very happy I read this novel for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, but I do wish it was a more complete story. This is a collection of moments in Angelou’s life in young adulthood. Therefore, I wouldn’t expect it to be a complete history, but the structure is a bit disconcerting at times, jumping from one moment to the next sometimes without much connection. This is particularly abrupt near the end where it feels she is building to a big life lesson to conclude with. Then she concludes that bit of her life, and continues into another small bit of her life before she concludes the story.

It all just felt so abrupt. I wish the it was a more cohesive story overall; perhaps what we have would have worked better in the form of short stories. Nevertheless, the novel is still great at what it does: presenting us with a period of her life as a young mother. 4.25/5 stars

My favorite Quotes

The more I read, the more I find lines I find myself wanting to make note of for whatever reason, and I thought this would be the perfect place to talk about or at least list them.

I hated their stupidity, but more than that I hated being underestimated. If they only knew, they could strip buck naked and do the Sassy Sue wiggle and I would continue to sit, with my legs crossed, sipping the Dubonnet.

Page 41, 3rd paragraph, Mass Paperback Edition

Dr. Angelou has recently met a lesbian couple who invited her over to their place. While there, she quickly came to regret the visit, and made it clear she was not any way gay. Nevertheless, the couple began to kiss intimately to get a rise out of her, igniting this hilarious response.

He melted into the darker darkness. The following year I heard that he had blown his brains out with a shotgun on the day of his father’s funeral.

Page 71, final paragraph chapter 16., Mass Paperback Edition

Dr. Angelou meets with an old acquaintance who goes on an on about wanting to leave home but having to take care of his father, never letting Dr. Angelou talk. When she finally bids him farewell, things turned quickly turned morbid in a way that just caught me off Dr. guard because of how matter of fact it was.

But I too had some training–that is, “Never let white folks know what you really think. If you’re sad, laugh. If you’re bleeding inside, dance.”

Page 86, 3rd paragraph, Mass Paperback Edition

This may be the most profound quote I read. It speaks to what is like to be black, let alone a black woman, during this time. Everything will be used against you, and you have no choice but to be cautious. This has an uncanny similarity to Dr. Angelous poem, When I Think About My Self. This is probably my favorite poem, not just of hers (of which I’ve read only a few). Please, watch the clip below as she performs it.

She talks about an older women who has to let her employer talk down to her because it’s what she has to do to to get buy. Beyond on that, its about the sacrifices one has to make and the indignities you may have to endure in life and how strong a person that makes you. Now, I say that, but let me be clear, I am probably missing or misrepresenting parts of it. You can probably see similarities to the quote I’ve mentioned here. The quote even adds a level of weight to this poem too. I always saw it as Dr. Angelou writing about women who have to endure this, never realizing she was one of those women. Of course, it makes the tears all the more understandable.

Things had arranged themselves in my favor at last.

Page 87, 6th paragraph, Mass Paperback Edition

I hesitated to include this quote because it is seemingly small and unimportant. Sure, it speaks to a life of hardship which is all too accurate. What surprised me when I read it was that I couldn’t help but do a double take. Dr. Angelou has a way of getting things done and working with what she is given that almost gives the illusion of success. I mean, don’t get me wrong, everything she does seems to become a success, but not because it’s what she wanted. Rather, she makes the most of what she is given in a way that is inspiring and admirable.

He’s a man. He’s got a job and his health and strength. Some people have to make it through life with less.

Page 89, 1st paragraph, Mass Paperback Edition

I may be giving this more weight than was intended, but I felt like there was a lot to unpack here. Dr. Angelou’s grandmother (who raised her) is talking to her about Dr. Angelou’s brother, who Dr. Angelou feels needs to strive for more than just being a waiter. Overall, it seems to speak to the contentment some people have in life, contentment that Dr. Angelou just doesn’t have. It is hard to figure out if Mother (the name given to her grandmother) is speaking regretfully or a matter of fact, but it definitely feels like she’s targeting men in particular in a way that amused me.

People always said Uncle Sam would spend a thousand dollars to get you if you stole a three-cent stamp from him. He was more revengeful than God.

Page 92, 1st paragraph, Mass Paperback Edition

There isn’t much to unpack here. I thought this was cute and funny. Except, it’s also very poignant even today. With recent reporting by Propublica about the IRS targeting the poor more often then the rich seemingly because they’re easier to take down. The government is flawed in many ways with backward approaches to resolving issues.

Hell, I wouldn’t have recognized Stalin if he’d been in my class when I was fourteen. Literally, all white folks still looked alike to me: pale and similar.

Page 94, 1st paragraph, Mass Paperback Edition

This is equally amusing as it is concerning. Here she is discussing her attempt to apply to the army. She was so sure she would get in, but she was worried they may find out that she has a son. Come to find out, the only thing they cared about was her being apart of socialist group. They accused her of being a traitor of her country.

The only way I could be in the business was to give due service for the money paid. I decided privately that I would make each trick (each man) happy and forget the unbearable loneliness that sent him out in the rain searching for love.

Page 139, 1st paragraph, Mass Paperback Edition

This was her right as she naively entered into the prostitution business. She was driven by a manipulative older man who convinced her this was so they could be together, and she in turn convinced herself that what she was doing was honorable and for the good of the man. I thought this was an interesting way of describing it because I think she was trying to convey her own nativity during this time in her life.

Girls Burn Brighter, by Shobha Rao β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

This may be one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. It’s almost the opposite of fairy tale where nothing goes right and everything only ever gets worse. The saddest part of all is the reality of the fictional circumstances we read about. We follow two women who grow up in the same village. The novel jumps between the two characters, almost as if they each have their own novel of their life. The story begins with them as children as they learn the way of the world (in India) and the place of women there. They eventually form a bond with one another, and when they are separated in young adulthood, every bad thing that follows motivates them to find one another again.

I did not know a lot of about this novel going in. It was somewhat disconcerting at first, listening to the narration of the story going from two different characters to two different series of chapters (going 1, 2, 3, 1, 2 etc.). I wasn’t sure if I was that lost or if there was something more going on. When I finally picked up the book and realized the structure of the book, it all made much more sense. Alas, it did effect my enjoyment of the book at first.

Luckily, there was plenty of story that followed that was effective at getting me to care and empathize with the two characters. It is hard not to be infuriated by the things they have to endure. What’s more, it might be easy to judge India for their society, but it is important to remember we are not that far ahead of them when it comes to women’s rights and other human rights. The story reminded me of the Handmaid’s Tale. Gilead, like India, was a very authoritative and hierarchical society where women had little to no rights. Even in regular day life, they are objects and subjects to act and do what is expected of them. There are a never ending supply of injustices inflicted on our characters. Then there is the instinct to escape, or, more aptly in Rao’s novel, an instinct to reunite with the only person they ever truly felt safe with.

The connection with the two characters was a signature part of their relationship. I wish Rao had explored the extent of their connection more fully (I won’t dig too deeply into this to avoid spoilers). This friendship is what the novel revolves around, yet the amount of time we get with them together feels so short. Then when we finally reach the ending, the conclusion was abrupt and even a little ambiguous.

I can see why Rao might choose the type of ending we have; this isn’t a exactly a fairy tale. Not knowing what is to come is simply the reality of life, but I was still left daunting. All there is is hope, something these characters get so little of. 4.5/5 stars, rounding up.

The House of Dies Drear, by Virginia Hamilton β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†

Start 9/4/19

Virginia Hamilton died in 2002 from breast cancer, but her career was spent as renowned African American children’s books author. That right there should give you some hint as to what the House of Dies Drear will entail. How I actually came to reading this is unclear. After listening to a panel discussing black women authors, I searched for talented black women horror writers as Halloween is upon us. I came across Hamilton in one list, and I am not sure why she stood out. Perhaps it was the fact that her work has been classified as “Classic” (this was published in 1968). I read a few articles suggesting this was a horror book and thought it sounded interesting.

The story follows a young boy who moves into a house in Ohio that was once a part of the underground railroad. Strange things begin to happen as it seems the place is haunted. Goodreads marks this book as Mystery, but Rotten Tomatoes marks the film as horror. Whether this is horror exactly is unclear. Although, my first impressions (~40% through) are on the creepy side. Like the Haunting of Hill House, it is unclear whether the horrors we are observing are real or just the imaginations of our narrator. All that really matters here is that the boy believes it, and his horror is ours.

Knowing this is mystery makes me think there is more to it, but my first reactions are good. It is an interesting story that a non horror buff will likely enjoy (at least so far). If you are a parent looking to get your kid into horror, this might be a good place to start! That said, my unspoiled self expects it to turn into a more real story, like Nancy Drew or Scooby Doo. That isn’t what I enjoy most as a form of a horror, but so far the book works as an effective form of story telling that is captivating even to an adult.

Update 9/9/19

I’m 90% through the novel, and this point forward I am going to talk candidly in a way that will indicate if this is a ghost story or not. I won’t be giving away hard details. That isn’t to say ghosts have to be real for something to be a horror story or that there even need be ghosts present. The Haunting of Hill House is the perfect example of horror even with the possibility of it being all mental. All in all, I am enjoying the book. It is fine to good. It is not great, but it isn’t bad either. I think the best thing it has going for it is its ability to tell a children’s story in a tone that doesn’t feel like the author is talking to children. That said, I am not sure if I love this book as a choice. It is interesting, and even mildly unnerving at first, but it lies within the realm of the natural. It works great as a lesson in skepticism as well as judging people at first glance. It also is an interesting glimpse at what it is like to be a black family in the late 1960s, even up north. Although, I don’t think the bad things that are happening are meant to be strictly related to race. That is a great lesson for kids to learn, but if you are an adult, I can’t help but feel there are better stories that can be both evocative and convey the same lesson.

Finish 9/10/19

In the end, the book was fine. I can’t help but feel this story would work better for children. That isn’t to say kids books can’t be enjoyable; I enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time. That was was even a book that was overtly child like. There was just something about this story that felt anti-climatic. If you want to read it for a young child, I think it has a nice touch of horror and mystery, but beyond that, I find it hard to recommend above others. I may return to this and check out the movie. Perhaps it will give me a different perspective. For now, it gets a rating 3.5/5 stars, rounding down.

The film adaption of the novel.