Category Archives: books

A Black Experience Resource Guide for Curious White People

Civil rights march on Washington DC, August 28, 1963.
Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.

Earlier this week a friend expressed a dawning realization about the realities that black Americans face on a daily basis that she has never had to worry about. She discussed bearing witness to the overpolicing of recent protests she was seeing, and listening to a professor point out that it was just the latest illustration of the plight of black people in America. I wondered whether she had seen Henry Louis Gates interviewed—he’s a nationally known Harvard professor who was arrested by police who believed he was breaking and entering his own house in 2009. Just this morning I watched an interview where SNL comedian Michael Che confessed “I don’t think 9-1-1 is for me.”

One need not look too far to find a person of color who has had a disproportionally heavy-handed interaction with police. Even adorable Amber Ruffin shared her story of being a nervous new teen driver and being targeted by a cop. The Black Lives Matter movement may have started with the death of Trayvon Martin, but Martin’s death was by no means the first young man killed because of his ethnicity.

Pondering, I realized I could help people like my friend—white people who are just opening their eyes to the plight of their fellow man and/or systemic racism, but may need some guidance in learning more. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 25 years seeking out and absorbing voices of the “other”—racial minorities, QUILTBAGs, women, generally the people who aren’t traditionally covered in public school.

This is another way of saying I totally dig social history, but most people aren’t familiar with that term.

If you don’t understand why people are protesting in such massive numbers, the onus is on you, white person, to educate yourself about these matters. Close your mouth and open your ears. Ask thoughtful and sensitive questions. Seek out work created by someone who is very different than you. Consider discussing with others if you have a difficult time understanding the material. Here in Portland, Multnomah County Library created the Everybody Reads program to feature one book per year in aim of getting more people talking about these less-heard voices.

Following is a list of works I think would have some valuable information for people just starting to learn about the modern black experience, persisting dynamics, and why people are so damn angry right now.

BOOKS:

  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This is a book I think about frequently. There’s so much to learn! If Malcolm X was discussed at all in schools beside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he probably sounded really threatening. Not only had Malcolm parted ways with the Nation of Islam by the end of his life, but the last several pages (written solely by Alex Haley, without Malcolm) are heartbreaking. One of my weirdly-specific favorite passages is when he talks getting his conk done—this passage just skims the surface but black hair in general is definitely a thing that you should know about.
  • Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James Loewen documents evidence of “sundown towns”—places where you didn’t want to be out at night if you weren’t white. Loewen narrows the focus of his lengthy book to just the state he was living and teaching in, Illinois—but acknowledges that sundown towns existed in every single US state, and some still do, although not explicitly.
  • The March triology. Living legend and current US Senator John Lewis collaborated with artists to produce a trilogy of graphic novels about his life. Each one is packed full of civil rights history and behind the scenes struggles, through the eyes of a young man finding his way through life.
  • The Hate U Give. Released in 2017, this young adult book by Angie Thomas caught fire with adults as well. Inspired by the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, readers unfamiliar with 2Pac will never forget what THUG LIFE means—and why it’s important—after reading this book.
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison can be a rewarding read, but I’ll admit I had a lot of support to parse it during my freshman year in college. (The literary executor of Ellison’s estate, John Callahan, was a professor at my school.) If I was reading this for the first time I would definitely consider discussing with a book club, and maybe even work from the readers’ guide the publisher provides online.

MAGAZINES:

  • The 1619 Project was the vision of Nikole Hannah-Jones, a journalist who has since won a boatload of awards for the work, including a Pulitzer Prize. The very first boat carrying slaves from Africa landed on the shores of Virginia in 1619. Now, 400 years later, slavery still impacts the United States economically, culturally, medically, in housing, and well, the effects of slavery can be seen pretty much everywhere. There’s an accompanying podcast that won an(other) award recently, but it all began in The New York Times Magazine on August 14, 2019. Nikole Hannah-Jones goes by Ida Bae Wells on Twitter, in reference to Ida B. Wells, a 19th century pioneering black journalist you should also get to know.

FILM:

  • Roots is entirely worth the many hours you’ll spend watching it. It was a television must-see when it originally aired in 1978, and even today I love it when an unexpected star turns up. I’ve heard the book is amazing as well, and based on Alex Haley’s writing in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I believe it. But I have watched the Roots miniseries at least twice and have not yet read the book.
  • Do the Right Thing made a huge splash when it was released in 1989, and is still entirely relevant today. Spike Lee intentionally plays with his audience’s assumptions about a key character depending on their color. Anyone familiar with Eric Garner’s death will be haunted by a contemporary viewing of this movie. Definitely a movie worthy of reflection and discussion with others.
  • 13th: Produced and directed by Ava DuVernay, this documentary about the mass incarceration of people of color includes a succinct timeline connecting the Emancipation Proclamation and our current prison system.

PHOTOGRAPHY:

This list was co-curated by Steven Newton!

Even though I’ve exposed myself to a lot of these voices over the years, I am by no means an expert. Hell, I have yet to read James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, or Maya Angelou! There are other books about white privilege I haven’t gotten to yet either.

Educating yourself about new things can be a long (but rewarding!) process, so I think it’s helpful if someone can help steer you at certain points along your journey. If you have questions about any of the above recommendations or other cultural questions, ask them and I’ll do my best to help. Or if you’re not totally new to these ideas, feel free to comment with your recommendations as well!

Personal storytelling is an engine of humanization, which is in turn an engine of empathy.

Lindy West, The Witches Are Coming

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My E-reader Died!

It started so innocently. Multnomah County Library ran an online ad encouraging people to check out an e-book. I decided to try it out, as I had never attempted to use the e-reader I had gotten for free from the breakroom at my office for anything other than free, public domain titles.

Halfway through Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, my e-reader wasn’t sparking very much joy. It had randomly died, then apparently forgot I had loaded any books on it at all! When I tried to connect wirelessly to sync up with my Kobo account, the device was stymied.

I had gotten this device for free about a year and a half earlier. It was sitting on a table in the breakroom of my office, and I was drawn in by the cheery red case. In MPub e-books were a hot topic (some of my colleagues even did some actual real-life work with them!) but I was solidly unconvinced that they’d ever be a part of my life. After all, users had already started learning about the down-side of digital rights management when Amazon digitally yanked 1984 from e-readers without notice to their customers. When the e-reader hadn’t been claimed by my next visit to the breakroom, I nabbed it, thinking I could experiment with creating ePUB files of my own. Kobo, after all, was a Canadian company and I knew they didn’t require a proprietary file type like Amazon devices did.

I read one whole book on the device—Anne of Green Gables—long before loading the library book.

Once I started having issues it wasn’t long before I was in an epic back-and-forth with Kobo support techs—one of whom eventually became far more helpful than the others. It took a while, but the helpful tech ultimately decided that the device was done for. Which is what I had suspected weeks before.

Thus ended my e-reader experiment. I did put some effort into procuring another Kobo but it wasn’t too long before I figured out the newer models were far too fancy for my liking. These devices had color screens, some played video, and the cost was far above the budget I was willing to spend on such a thing.

Ultimately I decided that it wasn’t worth the modest utility I got from it—being able to stir a pot and read, or go on a trip and have a variety of titles to read, from Northanger Abbey to the gargantuan Ulysses. Paper will still be my go-to…for now, anyway.

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The Chicago Manual of Style Announces 17th Edition

Today in word nerd news, the world learned that September will bring a new edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)! The University of Chicago Press is already taking pre-orders. Spoiler alert: it costs $70.

More spoiler alerts: e-mail will be email and Internet will be internet! Gender fluidity will the conversation, too, as they report “use of the singular they as a preferred personal pronoun [will be] accepted in formal writing.” The times, they are a-changin’.

I managed to nab a $25 used copy of the 15th edition at Powell’s about five years before I was forced to upgrade to a new copy. MPub required us to have a copy of 16, which had just been released, so I purchased one at full retail price. (Of course there’s also my early edition of CMOS I scored in for $1.50. I wouldn’t part with it for the world!)

We’ve been through a lot, me and ol’ 16. There was at least one late night I needed to read most of the first chapter for editing class, which describes details about publishing as a whole. (Quick, someone quiz me on verso and recto!) As a reference, it felt a little awkward to be reading the book in front-to-back style.

Sadly, my current workplace just doesn’t beg the kinds of style questions I ache to research, so I haven’t been relying upon 16 as regularly as I have in the past. What do I do? I could sell the tome back to Powell’s now for maximum cash (which would then in turn be used to pre-order 17). Or maybe it’s time to start a CMOS collection, so I can research subtle changes that happened between editions.

What’s a word nerd to do?

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What I’m Reading: Radical Figures, Life Management

asdportrait

Abigail Scott Duniway, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thursday night I reached the epilogue of Evicted, so I’m in the home stretch of finishing that book. Honestly, I’m probably not going to read the backmatter of footnotes and such, which take up the last 20% of the thickness of the book, so I’ll likely be moving on to the next selection in my towering to-read stack.

Related to Current Political Shenanigans

Over the last couple of weeks certain historical figures have been on my mind. Figures such as Frederick Douglass, who the current occupant of the Oval Office recently referred to as if he was alive (Douglass died in 1895).

When I was attending Lewis and Clark College I was in a course where we read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. One of the details that stuck with me over the years is that Douglass didn’t know the day he was born, something that most of us consider to be basic information about ourselves. Of course it’s worth reading for more reasons besides that, and it’s public domain so it’s pretty easy to find. Highly recommended—after all, POTUS says that Douglass guy is really going places!

Conservatives Sure Love Progressives and Radicals—At Least After They’re Dead (Salon)

Most of my favorite historical figures relate to social history—the revolutionaries, the people who fought for their beliefs despite negative pushback from others. Here in Oregon we have Abigail Scott Duniway, who fought for women’s suffrage in Oregon alongside national figures such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. An announcement recently informed Portland that the local Hilton Hotel would be renamed after Duniway, which I can only think ties in to the above Salon article. A few years ago I created a Facebook page for Duniway, hoping to start a campaign to rename SE Division street for her…but it looks like the profiteers have now discovered her too.

Finding Time to Read

What would Bookish be without reading? I’ve seen a few articles about making time to read over the last few weeks. They all have something interesting to say.

Making Time to Read (Unclutterer)
In the Time You Spend on Social Media Each Year, You Could Read 200 Books (Quartz)
Books You Can Read in the Time It Takes to Watch the Super Bowl (Minnesota Public Radio)

The Importance of Saying No

Finally, this week I took on another short-term commitment that I probably should have said no to. Obviously I ran across this reminder later in the week…

One Critical Time Management Technique: Saying No (Unclutterer)

Although I admit I should have said no, I’m not entirely sorry because I’ve accepted the opportunity to learn the choral part to the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th, aka “Ode to Joy.” It seems pretty flipping timely to me to sing Schiller’s “Alle Menschen werden Brüder” again and again. Loudly.

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What I’m Reading: Evicted

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is the book selection for the Everybody Reads program at one of my local libraries this year.

Why Evicted? Portland’s popularity has lead to a housing crisis in the last few years. Home sales prices have shot up, making ownership even more out of reach for many. An influx of newcomers (some perhaps attracted by the Portlandia mythos, others escaping drought in California) has meant rental prices have become insane. A friend was renting an inner-SE basement apartment about ten years ago that was priced around $895 per month—while that seemed too expensive for me to sustainably afford at the time, a similar apartment might now go for $1300 or more.

Considering this environment I’m glad to own a house with no mortgage, although the condition is not that far from the housing described in Evicted. If my house ever becomes completely uninhabitable, it’s likely I’ll need to move to another part of the region. Or Tulsa—it always seems cost of living is reasonable in Tulsa.

The theory behind Everybody Reads is that if a community has one book they’re reading around the same time, it can spark connections among strangers and a larger public discourse. The library also uses the opportunity to schedule several related events—this year the author will be giving a lecture event in Portland and there are many opportunities for community members to participate in book discussions, learn about local renters rights, and participate in a poverty simulation.

It seems to me that this book is in some respects picking up where The Jungle left off, with the author writing in order to spur social change. That said, rather than creating a fictional account, Evicted was crafted after author Matthew Desmond conducted plenty of interviews and information gathering. A note in the front of the book points out that all the situations really happened, although names have been changed for anonymity.

And it’s a good thing, too. I’m only about halfway through the story and I already feel compelled to write a nastygram to one of the landlords in the book! If this is any recommendation, I promise you’ll feel so moved as well. Evicted does a great job of pulling the curtain back on a system that we should all engage in changing, in the name of human rights.

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What I’m Reading: March Wins the National Book Award!

March: Book Three won the National Book Award last Wednesday! Wahoo!

And last weekend, Representative John Lewis got another surprise when he returned to Nashville. There, in the place where he began his activism, he was presented with copies of his earliest arrest records that nobody had been able to locate previously.

In Nashville, Rep. John Lewis Gets Surprise from His Civil Rights Past

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been doing a lot of pondering about the next few years, puzzling over what actions I should be taking to stand up against hate. Representative Lewis had a thought that spoke to me. From the article:

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just,” he said, “you have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, to stand up, to speak up and speak out, and get in the way, get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.”

You guys? I think he’s speaking to all of us.

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Marching Toward a National Book Award

It’s a nice day indeed when you get a library notice that your desired book is waiting for you on the hold shelf, and two hours later you learn the same book has been shortlisted for the National Book Award!

Would March: Book Three live up to the hype? I was pretty stirred up by the end of the second book. As I saw it at the time either Book Two would be the height of the story arc, or they could make Book Three even more interesting and exciting. At the time, that didn’t seem possible.

But it was!

If you’re not familiar with the series, the March trilogy is a set of graphic novels based on the first-person experiences of Representative John Lewis (Georgia) during the Civil Rights era. He’s born to sharecropper parents in Alabama, and when he attends seminary school in Nashville he starts working with others on lunch counter sit-ins. He soon meets Martin Luther King, Jr., and cinches his place in the inner circle of the civil rights movement. He ends up in several scary situations, he is beaten and screamed at, but he never gives up his faith in the power non-violence and the civil rights struggle.

I had never read a first-person account of the movement in long form, and I also wasn’t very familiar with John Lewis before reading this series. (He recently made headlines with his sit-in for gun control.) What the series really gave me was a sense of detail about certain events that I hadn’t had before.

John Lewis spoke at the March on Washington, for example. This sequence during Book Two revealed much conversation that happened about Lewis’ speech in the hours before he gave it, with various organizations and representatives wanting him to take out certain phrases. Through the series, Lewis’ association with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) changes, from being a key member to being slightly at odds with the direction the organization was going in. The March on Washington seems to be a pivotal point in this relationship.

Book Three was the longest of the series, and dense with information. As I was reading it just a few weeks before a really important election, the sequence about Fannie Lou Hamer really spoke to me. If you are not familiar, blacks were attempting to register to vote in Alabama and encountering roadblocks galore, from ‘tests’ to jailing and harassment. Sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer testified on live television about her experiences trying to register to vote, and President Lyndon Baines Johnson was so threatened by what she might say that he invented a reason for a press conference so television stations would cut over to him. (Here’s her full testimony, much of which makes it into Book Three.)

To me, the LBJ episode says a lot about the importance of exercising one’s right to vote. People in this country have fought long and hard just to be able to vote! Don’t take the privilege lightly, friends.

Back to the book. Book Three starts honing in on activity in Selma, Alabama, and the serious voter suppression going on there. The climax of the book is a planned march from Selma to Montgomery, a symbolic march to present their case on the steps of the state capitol.

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie Selma, but the first outing doesn’t go too well. Participants have gathered from across the US, and they are met on the opposite side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge by a litany of cops and unsupportive citizens. It’s a bloodbath, and the nightly news broadcasts it across the US.

Perhaps you know what happens next, but Book Three is still a page-turner. This book in particular lends itself to a graphic novel treatment, and illustrator Nate Powell has done a fabulous job. Famous people depicted in the series may not be an exact likeness, but we know who they are—the action and emotion of the illustrative choices more than makes up for what I believe was a deliberate choice on the illustrator’s part. I really hope this does win the National Book Award.

In addition to learning a lot of details I didn’t already know about the civil rights movement, this book gave me a lot of hope. Reading it sparked my brain to meditate about voting, yes; but also how far we have come in the 50 years since the events in the book. We have societal woes today that are akin to those depicted in the series, but if there’s one big idea I took from the series, it’s that losing a battle doesn’t mean losing a war. Just keep marching on.

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Bookish is Back!

Hello, world…I’m back!

It was not my intention to go silent for a year. Things happened, I got busy. (I “only” read 17 books in 2015…can you believe?) Truth be told, I’m still busy—but things have been calming down for the year so here we are.

What could possibly have taken my attention away from Bookish?

Rain in the Forecast
Shortly after Atticus died last year I gained a new charge—at least part time. Rain was (and is) a bit of a wild child, but I started writing about our work together last summer on Rain in the Forecast. It has been about a year since we first started working on her social graces, but she has come a long way since last fall.

CSA Season
When you have a bundle of vegetables to use or lose each week for 23 weeks, making meals becomes an important part of your week. This is the third year I’ve split a CSA share with Steven. Each week we get our veggies from Zenger Farm  and split them up. We both eat very well, but it means that cooking takes a high prominence in our daily lives.

In order to maximize value from the CSA, I’m currently reading Eat It Up: 150 Recipes to Use Every Bit and Enjoy Every Bite of the Food You Eat. In the past I’ve written about great food reads, so I may write about this one later.

Oregon Standoff/Bundy Trial
Over the last several weeks I’ve been following the Oregon standoff trial really closely. A few weeks ago I even took a day off of work to go watch the trial in person! I could probably write a lengthy blog post about the trial alone. (And another blog post about the verdict…)

One amusing element that arose out of this whole wacky trial was Bundy Court Sketches. Scott Klatt even self-published a book called The Migration: Snack or Die compiled of his sketches about the refuge takeover and trial.

Yoga
I’ve been going to yoga class from one to three times a week for the last few years. Over the last year it has become more of a challenge because my time has been more stretched overall and because I’ve had more flare-ups of an old injury this year. Turns out that yoga may have been causing that! So I’ve been adjusting as needed.

In February I took two workshops with Dana Falsetti and Jessamyn Stanley, who have become renowned for their radical idea that one needn’t be wafer thin to be a badass yogi. Jessamyn will be releasing her first book, Yoga for Every Body, next spring!

Friday Reads
It’s a simple concept: take a photo of the book you’re reading on Friday and post it on social media. Inspired by Missoulian Chris LaTray, and my own desire to read more books this year than last, I’ve been posting Friday Reads photos on Instagram for a couple of months. I’ve already read one more book this year than last, and we still have a couple months left!

That’s more or less what has been taking up my time! Now that it’s winter I’m hoping to produce more work for Bookish. There might even be a new project or two in the works—more to come as time allows.

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Missoula: Krakauer’s Book is Talk of the Town

MissoulaBook

The reputation of Jon Krakauer’s Missoula preceded the book’s actual appearance in my hands. I had heard about the UM rape scandal when news outlets outside Missoula picked up the story. I had even heard about the book and hoped to read it. It wasn’t until late May when I received an email from an acquaintance that I started realizing just what a big deal this book was to my many friends and acquaintances in Montana.

The email was pretty innocuous, and it was sent to me in error. My acquaintance had been facilitating a copy of the book around her circle of friends, and she accidentally added me to the recipient list. We exchanged a couple more emails and she informed me that the book was “a big Montana topic right now.”

When I finally got my hands on a copy, another Missoula-area acquaintance expressed interest in knowing my thoughts once finished. Once reading, I started Googling names and uncovering the proliferation of public dialogue that happened over the previous few years.

One thing’s certain: this is an emotional book. Early chapters detail the incidents that set later action into motion, and they’re moving. We walk through each victim’s relationship to the police—deciding whether or not to even report the incident, and what happens if/when they do. We get to see how a community’s perception of a verdict may not reflect a full understanding of how the case was decided. Krakauer details how the academic discipline process is different than our larger criminal justice system, why that’s important and how it led to vastly different outcomes in some rape cases. After a court verdict that provides a climax to the book, further analysis is provided, including commentary from the US Department of Justice.

Intense!

When I started reading, I felt hesitant because I didn’t want to think ill of Missoula. I still have friends there and still feel like it’s a home away from home. Having now read the book, I think I more fully realize the impact of the book on the community.

• It’s not pleasant to have a mirror held up to your community, especially by someone perceived as an outsider. (See also: Portlandia)

• It’s not pleasant to receive national attention for a negative thing. (See also: Mulugeta Seraw)

• It’s not pleasant to accept your hometown heroes are maybe just as human as everyone else. (See also: Portland Jailblazers)

Embarrassment aside, the book is entirely valid—not just for Missoula, but for other college towns, and hell, everywhere in the United States. What other crimes do we, as a society, tend to disbelieve when the victim reports the offense? So much that the majority of rapes, attempted rapes, and sexual assaults are never reported? Of the multiple rape victims I know, one victim chose to report it, and later described her reporting process as “a nightmare.”

Reports suggest that the Missoula Police Department, at least, has been making improvements to their process since the Department of Justice got involved. Negative attention can create positive change, and this speaks to the power of investigatory journalism such as early work by Gwen Florio at The Missoulian. Without her pieces, the story may never have been picked up nationally, and this book may never have been written.

AmigoKittyMissoula

Amigo Kitty still loves you, Missoula, and I do too. But we also love progress, and think that this book may have done Missoula a bigger favor than perhaps the community realizes.

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RIP Atticus Finch Andrews (October 21, 2001-May 29, 2015)

He was seven days away from completing a glorious victory lap around the sun, but sadly Atticus Finch Andrews died Friday, May 29, 2015. You may remember him from Doggy Cancer, Bad Juju, and Constructive Wallowing.

Atticus was never much of a reader, but books were important in his life. Besides giving him a name, books were ultimately responsible for his living in Canada and many of his outdoors adventures.

Atticus had the kind of life that left no room for regrets at the end. He was a great dog, and he will be missed for years to come!

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