Battlecry of Freedom by James M. McPherson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½

Read 1/31/20 – 2/4/20

The Battle Cry of Freedom is a nonfiction book by James M. McPherson. Coming in at just under 900 pages, it is a massive, one volume outline of the Civil War. The book was fascinating, engaging, and unbelievably informative. I recognize how easy it is to approach this book with a little bit of trepidation. Even ignoring the size, this Pulitzer Prize winner is the 6th in the Oxford History of the United States, and it isn’t hard to imagine all the ways this kind of story could be told in a dull and disengaged manner. McPherson earns the praise, however, as this is amazingly structured and written book.

For me, the biggest flaw was focus on the finer battles throughout the war, but this is a narrative of the Civil War. It is only reasonable that as a piece of the story. I still loved the book because so much time is taken to explore the societal and political changes that lead to the war. Then, he kept the narrative grounded by tying the battles to the greater picture at large. The result is a complete picture of the United States at that time and an depth analysis of the time.

I talk about the details in my Vlog (see above), but I do want to summarize it here. I choose read this book after buying it maybe five years ago when the confederate flag (and monuments) was such a major issue (at least in the south) in the news. As a Georgian, I have always felt I have an obligation to truly understand, remember, and appreciate the past for how it is. It is a common argument from many southerners that honoring the confederacy, its soldiers, and its flag is about heritage and states rights, not slavery.

One doesn’t have to be a historian to figure out that is revisionist history. Nevertheless, I wanted to able to speak on the subject with a more complete background on the topic. The size and content has kept me from reading it, until now, and I am really glad I did because it makes so very clear how the confederacy was entirely about slavery and white supremacy. Hence, we have sects of white supremacy that has pushed to survive since, like a bacteria trying to fight against the antibiotics.

I read this, and made the blog, as a way of reaching out to fellow southerners in hopes of communicating the harm they do when honoring the confederacy. The ways in which racism persists can be subtle, and it requires conscious effort by us to overcome. I read a fascinating article by Toni Morrison briefly after the election of Donald Trump about how white supremacy fueled his election that really illustrates how past racial biases can persist so strongly still today.

I can’t stress enough how impact this book was on me or how important it is that you read it as well. We have to remember history and learn from it. I can’t wait to check out the other books in the Oxford History Series, and I hope you consider checking this one out too (the audiobook was great!).

Rating Break Down
Writing Style (7%): 8/10
Content (15%): 10/10
Structure (15%): 9/10
Summary (1%): 8/10
Engagement (5%): 9/10
Enjoyment (25%): 8/10
Comprehension (20%): 8/10
Pacing (2%): 9/10
Desire to Reread (5%): 8/10
Special (5%): 10/10
Calculated Rating: 4.31/5
Final Rating: 4.50/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance to calculate a final score that is rounded to the nearest half.

Kindred by Octavia Butler ★★★★★

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.

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim ★★★★☆

Began Reading 12/12/19 (15%)

I was going to hold off reading this a week because I start a readathon Sunday, but I’m ahead of schedule and couldn’t resist. Hopefully I finish it before then because I’d rather not stop and read a bunch of books in the middle of this one. First impression: very intrigued. I love time travel but am confused. I’m worried the concept may be a little too l convoluted, but still early. I side well see if it clears up

Finished Reading 12/13/19

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a fascinating idea with fairly good story to back it up. My initial confusion was cleared up as Thea Lim lays out the world we are in. A flu pandemic has begun (early 1980s), and if people want to afford a treatment, they can travel forward in time to work off their debt to this company. What unfolds is mildly dystopian story about a world driven by consumerism and fear where people lose their basic human rights. We follow our main character, Polly, as she tries to return to her love.

While it made sense in the end, it still feels a bit convoluted. It all seems like a very specific and round about way of addressing these issues. It reminded me a lot of Never Let Me Go but with a twist on the mechanics. It was a lovely story. Lim did a good job making me care for our main character. Unfortunately, I never quite got passed the necessary step of accepting this world as real, and that is most likely an effect of this convoluted idea. It makes for a good story.

My main reason for reading this was the time travel–perhaps my favorite thing to read about. This story though, could have worked without it. Granted it, it makes a lot things easier. Still, why have it? Why is this system in place? Why is the story set in the 80s instead of the present? Even as she is propelled forward, she only goes into the 90s. It isn’t as if we are seeing her in our time. Part of me wonders if it was a plot convenience orchestrated to avoid many of the pesky technologies that exist today.

I feel like all I’m saying are negative things about this book, but let me be clear. I really enjoyed it. I think it is a good book, if flawed. My initial instinct was to give it 4 stars, but I’m finding myself finding a lot more negative things to say than I anticipated. Therefore, I think it is more of a 3.75/5 stars. It is still a pretty good score!

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, Damian Duffy (Adapted) ★★★★★

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

The House of Dies Drear, by Virginia Hamilton ★★★☆☆

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.