Category Archives: books

Shifting from ‘Criminal Justice’ Frame to ‘Racial Justice’ Frame in One Book

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of ColorblindnessThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Because this book has been around since 2010, information from it has trickled into my awareness. Still, there was much in it that I did not already know.

Alexander (no relation) explicated in detail how laws that sound neutral can be racist in their effect; the drug war involves such laws. The short version: blacks and whites use and sell drugs at about the same rate; blacks are imprisoned with felony charges, whites are less likely to be so charged. Felony charges affect people for life after prison: no public housing, no food stamps, the box on employment applications–becoming outcasts. Whites are less likely to go to jail. The judicial system has made it impossible to win lawsuits claiming racism unless there is overt hostile intent–impact is ignored.

She shows how nothing can change without a change in public consciousness as she traces similarities in slavery, Jim Crow, and contemporary drug-war imprisonments. Attitudes find new ways to express themselves and maintain what she names a racial caste system.

The book is very detailed, as it must be, to show the systemic nature of the racism she addresses, something that occurs on an almost subconscious level. I did find the similarities section of Chapter 5, “The New Jim Crow” to repeat too much of what had been clearly presented before, but when she got to the differences, new information surfaced.

The concluding chapter, “The Fire This Time,” defends her claim that legislative change alone will only open new variations of oppression unless public consciousness changes as well. She discusses other solutions that have not worked, including “color blindness.” The claimed neutrality of “color blindness” serves to mask systemic racism. Rather than becoming blind to color, we need to stop being blind to injustice. We need to learn to talk about race. (This is beginning to happen more in the years since the book’s publication.) She points to a time when slaves and white impoverished workers were divided even though they had issues in common and urges a return to working together.

View all my reviews

1 Comment

Filed under books

A Book Instead of a Quilt

The OrchardistThe Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This amazing book caught my interest with the first paragraph, and that without the ‘in medias res’ beginning. Oh there was back story, but the actual plot began in Chapter 1 with two girls stealing fruit.

The pace is leisurely for the first two thirds, then speeds up, the style descriptive and immediate. There were few characters, though towns and other activities were implied. The characters were well developed with flaws and virtues–all but one, who had no redeeming qualities.

Much of the book was about ideas never stated (the Orchardist himself, Jane and Della, sometimes Caroline Middey, though she was the most likely to speak) or about inability to speak (Clee). Angeline was more the one who wanted to know than one not communicating. Each had their own type of isolation, though there were also relationships.

The novel deals with aging, birth, the growing up of children, and the diminished abilities of the elderly, always matter of factly, sometimes understated. Never heavy handed philosophizing.

This is a rare book that remains excellent through the ending. (view spoiler)

View all my reviews

6 Comments

Filed under books, Uncategorized

Reading Instead of Sewing, Again

Facts & Fabrications-Unraveling the History of Quilts & Slavery: 8 Projects 20 Blocks First-Person AccountsFacts & Fabrications-Unraveling the History of Quilts & Slavery: 8 Projects 20 Blocks First-Person Accounts by Barbara Brackman

The history is in summary form, but there are endnotes with further sources.

The book opens with a brief discussion of myth Vs. historical method. This is followed by an abbreviated history of slavery from the beginning of the slave trade to emancipation and migration. Although I am fairly familiar with the topic (having read The Great Migration, I learned some new detail (the migration to the plains). And the quotations from diaries and WPA recorded oral histories added an important dimension.

Brackman links each stage of the history to a quilt block by the name of the block, a story telling method she links with the 20th century. The idea is to create a mnemonic for remembering the history.

The block patterns and quilt layouts are clearly explained and illustrated, but she refers readers to other how-to books for basic quilting instructions. She also includes suggestions for adapting the history and sewing to children (in formal and informal settings)  and includes possible discussion questions.

View all my reviews

5 Comments

Filed under books

Reading about Race

Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of RaceWaking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I appreciated reading this meditation on growing personal awareness of whiteness as a race, not as neutral or a norm. It is not an easy lesson to learn, and Irving shares her missteps as well as her successes.

Sometimes books on interracial communication leave me fearful of saying anything at all. Irving answers that fear by speaking of the need to get over ourselves, to get over needing to be seen as a “good person” or a “good anti-racist,” but to be willing to be vulnerable.

Irving admits that her white culture could be different from that of other readers due to differences in social class. And while much of what she describes rings true to me and I admit white privilege, there are some networking advantages she had that were not available to me. Those differences do not negate her message that we need to own our privilege and see its flip side in privilege withheld from people of color. And I can identify with the dominant white cultural dictum to avoid conflict, hence avoid discussion. Yep, I was raised like that.

Irving’s book is not about white do-goodism; in fact that is one of the stages she went through on her way. Nor is it about diversity training. Rather it is about recognizing and confronting systemic racism and our place in it.

View all my reviews

4 Comments

Filed under books, Uncategorized

An Important Book: Being Mortal

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the EndBeing Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought that I had thought all the necessary questions about end-of-life decisions, and I had thought many. But Gawande opens up new questions for evaluating those issues.

Gawande also opens up new ways to think about dealing with debilitating changes forced by disease or age. He offers a critique of traditional nursing homes, of what “assisted living” has become, and of medical practice based more on procedures than persons. His illustrations with case studies–some showing failure, others showing success–take the book beyond theory to readable.

Gawande challenges the narrow focus on safety and extending life and replaces it with concern for quality of life. He notes that people making quality-of-life decisions for patients often think in terms of what they, themselves, want, not what the patient would want. He questions the Maslow hierarchy’s application to all ages and stages. “Freedom to be the author of our lives” within whatever circumstances we are dealt becomes primary. He offers discussion questions for medical personnel and family to use to understand what the patient sees as desirable quality of life, then urges discussion of ways to accomplish it.

View all my reviews

8 Comments

Filed under books, Uncategorized

585 Pages Later

You might have noticed that I’ve not been posting much of my own quilting. I’ve been reading to make up for the time spent last month quilting for the show.

I highly recommend this book.

AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The novel tells of Ifemeu and Obinze, their lives in Nigeria, US, and UK. Along with them are many other well developed characters, major and minor. A few who made short appearances were two-dimensional. We learn many ways to be Nigerian and American through the characters, but none of them existed only to be illustrations.

I enjoyed all 580+ pages, and was in suspense till the very end as to the conclusion. And I would have found it a satisfying read if it had ended in two of the three ways I’d anticipated, tolerable for the third. And every page was necessary to get to that conclusion.

The narrative movement was not chronological, though there was a clear timeline to the present section. The back story appeared more thematically as it related to the present story. The bulk of the novel was back story.

The social commentary was well handled, never controlling the narrative, appearing often through Ifemelu’s blog–first through subject lines, then through actual entries. Other appearances through conversations of Ifemelu and her friends. Always natural and appropriate to the context. An outsider’s view on US race issues was revealing as were observations on gender roles in both US and Nigeria.

The style is worth remarking. Vivid descriptions help evoke an unfamiliar world. Images, such as “yet there was cement in her soul” (7) and “the air wrinkling between them”(338) evoke the interior of the characters and conversations.

It leads me to want to read her other works.

View all my reviews

 

3 Comments

Filed under books, Uncategorized

A Very Unusual Novel

Geek LoveGeek Love by Katherine Dunn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had to look up “geek” because it surely didn’t mean the detailed interest of, say, a computer geek. So I learned the carnival meaning. Luckily the really gross and bloody part occurred only briefly at the beginning. The next oddity was the father deciding to produce his own freak show for the carnival (based on his seeing horticultural variety at the International Test Rose Garden). The mother dutifully took drugs to alter her offspring. Their living children were four: Arty with fins for arms and legs; Elly and Iphy, the Siamese twins; Oly, the albino, hunchbacked, dwarf narrator; and Chick the youngest, with his special powers.

Had it not been a group read, I might have stopped there. However, I remembered a comment of a professor about other novels with “grotesques”: What could the author say through them that couldn’t be said through more average characters? I decided to read a bit more through that frame. Then the next chapter captured my attention with its narrative strategy of jumping into the future with Oly and her daughter Miranda. Several events are revealed that make a reader wonder how they happened. That same strategy is used a few more times, like a carrot to keep one reading. For the first two thirds of the book, the pacing was very effective. Then the notes of a reporter/participant were introduced, and while they provided important information that Oly, the narrator, couldn’t have known, they dragged the pace considerably. Also the very ending of the book seemed to take too long.

I have not yet answered the What-could-be-said question. First hypothesis, something about disability issues. Did not hold up. Second hypothesis, something about minorities. The carnival provided a sort of ghetto where deformities were normal; however, the carnival was dependent on the money of the norms buying tickets. Oly didn’t feel odd till she no longer lived in the carnival setting.

One group member, who read an interview with the author,  learned she is an environmentalist and is anti-war. Perhaps the father’s manipulation is an extreme of the various pollutants in our atmosphere, food, and water. And there was one paragraph in the reporter’s notes where Arty ponders how people could criticize his followers who are maimed by choice and not criticize war with the injuries it produces. Maybe. And is it really choice when there is cult-like power in the leader and manipulation? I feel the need to think more on the followers’ willingness to endure amputation and what it might say about other things we readers may be willing to give up and for what.

View all my reviews

2 Comments

Filed under books