Authors · Books · Language · literacy

20 Favorite Reads in no particular order

Anthem, Ayn Rand

The Group, Mary McCarthy

Blood Child, Octavia Butler

The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan

In Love & Trouble, Alice Walker

Five Smooth Stones, Ann Fairbairn

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

The Stand, Stephen King

The Mad Man, Samuel R. Delany

The Joys of Motherhood, Buchi Emecheta

Seven Japanese Tales, Junichiro Tanizaki

Band of Angels, Robert Penn Warren

Maus I and II, Art Spiegelman

A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn

Midaq Alley, Naguib Mahfouz

Stories in Stone, Douglas Keister

The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor

Collected Stories, Tennessee Williams

Why I am Not a Christian, Bertrand Russell

Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin

Authors · Books · Sociology

What I’m reading: On Trembling Ground by AP Newell

I knew when I fell in love with Harley that something bad was going to happen to him. I hated Franklin from beginning to end.

A tough read about small town race relations at the beginning of what would become the Civil Rights Movement, and about intimate family relations, particularly those between siblings.

Character development is very good. Each of the major characters is fleshed out, multidimensional. The voices are clear, deliberate, insightful.

Some old dogs refuse to learn new tricks; that’s Franklin. The hold of tradition on some folks’ minds is frightening. Traditional thinking can lead people to do the most heinous things. Self-righteous traditional thinking seemingly goes on until the thinker dies. It saddens me to think that the only way to progress on some fronts is through the attrition process of death.

All in all, a very good read.

art · Authors · Books · Sociology

What I’m Reading: On Trembling Ground by AP Newell

This book is good. However, it is very difficult to read as I feel like I am living in the time period depicted (early ‘60s, Civil Rights era), being intimidated by the bullies of this era, gang members.

Then, as now, the innocent just had to bear with the injustices heaped upon them by good Christians that the law supported in their wrong doing.

The portrayals of the characters is complex and dense even though the style of writing is very easy, flowing oh so naturally. I can almost understand Franklin, who reluctantly becomes an active Klan member, in part to keep his job and partly because he thought he was doing the right thing for an upright, god-fearing Christian white man of the south.  I like his brother Harley, though, who is a music man trying to stay true to his art through hard times, who recognizes that Elvis stole his music from Black human beings.

I turn to this story for ideas of how to survive the current hostile climate in which I live and am persecuted by people who share a skin color similar to my own. I learned a long time ago, though, that all my skinfolk ain’t my kinfolk.

I like the varied dimensionality of the characters most thus far.

More when I finish . . .

Authors · Language · power

Said’s definition of an Intellectual

An intellectual is “an individual endowed with a faculty for representing, embodying, articulating a message, a view, an attitude, philosophy or opinion to, as well as for, a public.  And this role has an edge to it, and cannot be played without a sense of being someone whose place it is publicly to raise embarrassing questions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma (rather than to produce them), to be someone who cannot easily be co-opted by governments or corporations, and whose raison d’etre is to represent those people and issues that are routinely forgotten or swept under the rug.  The intellectual does so on the basis of universal principles: that all human beings are entitled to expect decent standards of behavior concerning freedom and justice from worldly powers or nations, and that deliberate or inadvertent violations of these standards need to be testified and fought against courageously.”

Edward Said, 1993 Reith Lectures for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Authors · Books · Obituaries

Primo Levi, John Leonard and Me

  I was watching the Japanese channel when a documentary came on about a man making a pilgrimage to the gravesite of Primo Levi, the Italian chemist, author, and Auschwitz survivor. On his grave is his name, the years of  his birth and death, and a 6 digit number, 174517.  This number was tattooed on his arm by the Nazis in the concentration camp.

Primo Levi

I was mesmerized by the devotion to Levi demonstrated by the pilgrim, who had made the journey to Levi’s grave twice before, and decided to read some of his works. The library had a ready collection of his stories, essays, and recorded interviews as well as his writings about living in and surviving Auschwitz.  Such quiet horror resonates from the pages of his Auschwitz writings. 

As I was preparing to leave the library, I stopped by the new arrivals shelf and found a book by John Leonard, my favorite critic. He died in 2008. I picked up Lonesome Rangers: Homeless Minds, Promised Lands, Fugitive Cultures. I didn’t look at the table of contents. Didn’t need to. John Leonard always delivers.

Reading Levi was different. His stories are clearly written, lucid. Some of them are quite fanciful, fantastic. He included all his interests in his work.  He loved scientific topics, but he also had a flair for whimsy.  After reading as much of Levi as possible without having The Periodic Table at hand, I decided to have a look at Lonesome Rangers.

Know what the first essay was titled? Primo Levi Reads Franz Kafka. Coincidence?  I think not.  The essay explains the context of Levi’s suicide at age 67 and tells us that not only did he kill himself but also our wishful thinking.

I’m recommending any and all of Primo Levi’s writings to you and also the works of John Leonard.  The world is much poorer without their continued output, but at least they left behind plenty of thought provoking writings for us to reflect upon.