Books

Books I Read – February

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So this month, I restricted myself to books relating to Black History Month, and I’m glad I did. A bit of rereading, some new reading, and I found some wonderful books that will make you think and question and…respect what a community has gone through.

Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterly

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OK, I had high hopes for this book, and in my opinion, it simply didn’t deliver. It’s fine – but I later read some amazing books, so this one failed to impress. Anyway, it’s a non-fiction book describing the lives of the black woman who worked as human computers for NASA at Langley in the 50s. The author leads in with an overview of life as a black woman, then and now, and how some things haven’t changed. While the narrative itself is interesting, the writing style is fairly dry and it was hard for me to get through it. I kept having to read another book and circle back. I recommend the movie over the book, and yes, it physically pains me to say that.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

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In contrast to Hidden Figures, this book was AMAZING. The title comes from Tupac Shakur’s “T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E” and it’s very fitting. The generally-encompassing premise is racially based police brutality, a hot topic nowadays, and this book did an excellent job of covering the topic. It takes place in Garden Heights, which is fictional to my knowledge, but it’s College Park, it’s South Side Chicago, it’s Detroit, it’s Harlem – any areas that have a strong black population and to the outside world, regardless of fact, are viewed as a hotbed of crime. The protaganist is in the car when her friend is shot, and she struggles in the aftermath as she attends the predominantly white school across town, where protests over the death are viewed as an excuse to cut class more than a political statement, and at home, where she has to watch as the police ignore and cover up the situation. From the beginning, you care for her, and therefore her community. A couple of things I particularly liked:

The boyfriend – while Starr’s girl friend at her school shows how cruel and dismissive people can be about police brutality, the boyfriend steps ALL the way up. I appreciated how the character didn’t have all the answers, didn’t make all the right moves, but instead learned and tried. In my (white) opinion, he was a great example of what a white ally should be.

The community of Garden Heights – a common retort about police brutality is that black people kill black people more than police do, and this book addresses that. Yes, gang violence is an issue. Yes, statistics may show that black people kill black people. But the book reveals more – the extenuating circumstances that lead people to join gangs, to deal drugs, to do all the things we so easily condemn them for. It also shows how the communities are already fighting this violence themselves. They’re (and I believe it’s true from my very limited experience) aware of their issues – the problem is that the very people they are told to trust are also killing people.

The hypocrisy of the Blue Line, and often the Justice system – When a cop does a bad thing, the Blue Line MUST break. I’m saying it flat out. I believe it wholeheartedly. I understand that cops have to trust each other, but let’s be real, you don’t trust the guy who shoots people at random anyway, so that’s already out the window. In the book, Starr waits 13 weeks to get the answer that we all know is coming. In real life, people have waited even longer. Another thing on this – there’s one point where the father of the cop discusses how his son is “afraid” to go to the store, and it made me think of how Brock Turner’s father said his son was too sad to eat steak, and wasn’t that enough punishment for 20 minutes of fun? (Yes, I want to puke just from typing that). The US justice system has created a pattern of overpunishing for marijuana or stealing, and underpunishing for murder or rape, especially when the criminal wears a blue uniform or is a good swimmer.

Anyway, by the end of the book, I was half crying and half ready to march in the streets. If you’re only going to read one book off this list, make it this one. And please, let me know what you think about it – I’d love to talk about this with people!

The Help – Kathryn Stockett

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Like Hidden Figures, this book spawned a movie that I really enjoyed, one that made me want to read the book. Well worth it. The movie was great – there’s no denying that. But the book was just a pinch better. I feel like the book did a better job at keeping the story focused on the maids in Alabama during the civil rights movement, and that is where the focus should be. While the movie stayed pretty true to the book, I felt just a bit more connected to the story when I read it over when I watched it. When talking about Civil Rights, the focus is always on MLK Jr., or Malcolm X, or Rosa Parks, and we often forget all the others who could only rebel in their own small ways. A must-read.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

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Ok, I’ve actually read her collection of poems before. However, Black History Month, it seemed like I should read them again. I love them. Her writing is beautiful, lyrical, and rips your heart out at the same time. It’s amazing.

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

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Another re-read. I first read this when I was about thirteen and didn’t like it, but I thought maybe it was an age thing. It wasn’t. This book just is not something I’m into. The general events in the storyline should be powerful, should break your heart every step of the way, and in my case, they just don’t. Shugg, who is supposed to be like the anchor of the book, is…detestable. To me, it seemed like the author spent so much time trying to gain sympathy for the main character, then trying to tie up the loose threads that she lost sight of the point of the book.

Beloved – Toni Morrison

I’d read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison years ago (probably about when I read The Color Purple) and I hated it, but Toni Morrison is supposed to be amazing so I wanted to try again. I see why it’s regarded highly in literary circles – and that’s exactly why it’s overrated. I’m sorry to anyone I’m about to offend, but the book is overdone and in a lot of ways, the storylines hurt the case she was trying to make, which just pisses me off, because I should never be LESS sympathetic to those trapped in slavery! This is right up there with My Antonia and As I Lay Dying for my least favorite book, which says a lot because I burned the former (the only time I’ve ever done so) and I wrote a ten page paper in college about how much the latter sucked.

Becoming – Michelle Obama

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I was so pumped to read this book and it was well worth it. Let’s be real – she is one of the coolest First Ladies we’ve ever had, and certainly the coolest in my lifetime. Her life is interesting, and the book provides a look at how she got to where she is. She is an interesting, down-to-earth person and reading the book feels like sitting down to a cup of coffee with her. I was hooked, and absolutely recommend it, whether you like Obama’s politics or not.

We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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I’ll be honest – one of the reasons I chose this was because I forgot the name of the author I really like and Ms. Adichie’s intials are C.A. Regardless, this was a great book. She explains the importance of feminism, more specifically intersectional feminism – a caveat that is often forgotten or ignored. This book really covers how feminism – true, pure, unbiased feminism – helps everyone.

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

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This is the author that I actually wanted. I read Things Fall Apart in high school, loved it, and wanted to reread it since I couldn’t actually remember the storyline. I’m actually even happier that I read this following We Should All Be Feminists, since a large part of this book shows the hazards of toxic masculinity. This book is…powerful, to say the least, and worms it’s way into your head until you’re circling different points it brought up hours or days later. If you haven’t read it, you should.

So guilty admission – I didn’t read a lot again this month – partially over losing internet for a while (gotta love the small town) and not having books down, and partly pure laziness. I’ve got to get back on track in March. However, I have several more books on black history on my reading list, so I’m going to be filtering those in in the upcoming months.

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