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[personal profile] yatima
A devastating masterpiece. When Trump was elected, I was afraid that my lifelong nightmares of concentration camps would come true. I should have known that they already had. Since the inception of Reagan's War on Drugs, the USA has been a for-profit carceral state.
Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.

I had known bits and pieces of this - one can hardly live in America without knowing it. Alexander's achievement is to put together the evidence in as damning an indictment as one can imagine. The fact that this was written two years into the first Obama administration, and seven years before the inauguration of a white supremacist demagogue, just underscores the seriousness and urgency of its message. Black lives matter.
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[personal profile] yatima
I read this on the recommendation of the great Roxane Gay. Like everything she recommends, it's excellent.

grant me a few free hours each day. Grant me a Moleskine pad & a ballpoint pen with some mass. Grant me your gift of this voice. Pages & pages of this voice, in a good book from a loving press. & grant me a great love, too. Grant a way to provide for my love. Like, a tenure-track job at a small college in the Midwest.

Wicker draws the reader in with this likable, conversational-confessional frankness. His project isn't to emphasize our shared experience, though. It's to draw attention to the cracks.

The danger in consuming the Grey Poupon is believing that you, too, can be a first-generation member of the elite, turning your nose up at soul music, simple joy, fried foods, casual Fridays—essentially everything I’m made of.

Under late capitalism, we are all subject to precarity, but no one more so than a black man in a police state. Wicker challenges us not to look away.

What’s the use in playing it like everything’s going to be OK for me in the event of mortal catastrophe

Grant this guy tenure, and bulletproof skin.
[identity profile] emma-in-oz.livejournal.com
2.21 - Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (2006)

This book lurches from horrifying to darkly funny to horrifying again. According to this book (and I find it quite plausible) every single member of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq was an ideologically driven, grossly incompetent moron.

Horrifying: they had no plan, actually, literally, no plan for how to do the reconstruction of Iraq. They had a plan for the invasion but not for what to do afterwards.

Horribly funny: a group of six recent college graduates were put in charge of distributing literally millions of dollars.

Horrifying: the moron in charge of reforming the Health sector was obsessed with installing an American-style free market health system (like that works so well!) so he spent all his energies on editing the list of drugs they could buy rather than ensuring the looted and bombed hospitals had, say, any drugs at all or electricity.

It's a really, really good read and gives you great insight into how Iraq came to be so totally stuffed up during the occupation. He goes through all the things you need for a functioning society - employment, security, electricity, a health system, an education system, and examines the squandered opportunities that lead to the disaster that is now Iraq.
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
47 Zionist Colonialism in Palestine by Fayez A. Sayegh

A 1965 pamphlet by one of the founders of the PLO. I do not intend to get into a flamewar over the book on this forum. However, if you're curious what I thought and would like to get into a good faith discussion, I might be willing to take it to email.
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
I'm officially in love with Percival Everett, I think.

It started when I learned that he'd written a book called A History of the African American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond as Told To Percival Everett and James Kincaid. My sense of humor is too cocked for me to not be drawn to such a long and ridiculous title. Benjamin Rosenbaum's similarly titled "Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes', by Benjamin Rosenbaum" is among my favorite short stories, after all.

While I waited for that to arrive on Amazon, I picked another of his books up at the library.

35) I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett.

The title, in addition to being a strikingly on-the-nose sentiment, is possibly a spoof on Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, as the novel is also concerned in some sense with the evolving cultural mores of today's youth culture. The novel's title character is named Not Sidney Poitier, a curious moniker his mentally ill mother assigned to him for no clear reason we're ever given. It turns out that as he grows up, he begins to closely resemble his non-namesake, and Everett has Not Sidney endure a series of adventures that more or less directly parody famous Poitier movies.

The novel begins Shandyan, with a very funny and very peculiar narration of the narrator's birth. It ends Borgesian, with the lines between Not Sidney and Sidney blurring in almost ecstatic ways. And on almost any other book I was writing up for this community I would hesitate to make those comparisons, because I'm growing wary of making naive comparisons to white authors on this community, wary of slotting them into a paradigm where they're considered second class citizens. But among the questions Everett seems to be asking, particularly in a central passage where Not Sidney experiences Not Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, is what makes a particular narrative "white" or "black". What separates Dick from Delany, what separates Baldwin from Hemingway, what separates Sidney Poitier from Not Sidney Poitier, and what separates Not Sidney Poitier from billionaire Ted Turner, who has a hysterical turn here as Not Sidney's eccentric adoptive father figure. So it's vitally important that Everett run his novel up against Tristram Shandy and David Copperfield and The Metamorphosis, in addition to the narratives of Frederick Douglass and Sidney Poitier and the rest of his "black narratives". The result of this mishmash is a literature of suffering and hope, joyously combined.

36)Erasure by Percival Everett

All three novels of Everett's that I've read feature some form of self-insertion. In I Am Not Sidney Poitier, Percival Everett is a Morehouse professor who teaches a course on the Philosophy of Nonsense and offers Not Sidney all manner of entirely unhelpful and nonsensical advice. In A History of the African American People, Everett is a Berkeley professor contracted by Strom Thurmond to help set his thoughts down on paper. In Erasure, Thelonious Ellison (a name which in a way is the same as Not Sidney) is a middle class novelist and teacher who has just published a novel that parodies the post-modern literary establishment and is recognizably similar to Everett's Glyph in form and content.

Ellison takes a leave of absence from his teaching job at Berkeley after his sister is shot and he is left to care for his Alzheimer's-afflicted mother. In the interim, he sits down and writes a parody of one of the "ghetto novels" that has become so popular lately as epitomized by Push. Everett sets down 60 pages of the novel within the novel, an ebonics-laden tale of violence and drugs titled My Pafology.

The novel poses fascinating questions about authenticity as "My Pafology", retitled "Fuck", becomes a best-seller and wins the National Book Award. Everett is brutal and funny as he mocks Oprah, the literary establishment, liberal guilt, and our desire to find a fiction that somehow communicates the truth of human suffering.

37) A History of the African American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond as Told To Percival Everett and James Kincaid by Percival Everett (and James Kincaid? I'm honestly not sure what Kincaid's contributions were, which is part of the point)

An epistolary narrative tracing the development of the titular historical memoir, from its conception in the blurry mind of a Thurmond aide through its development by a desperate Simon and Schuster editor and the bewildered ghostwriting undertaken by the team of Everett and Kincaid, writers in the Berkeley English department, one white and one black.

Unlike a lot of such parody novels, Everett doesn't supply you with any sort of anchoring character. Everyone you meet is just as poorly adjusted to society. They let their perversions, their foibles, their weaknesses drive them. Thurmond's aide misrepresents his relationship with his boss. The editor abuses his position of authority to make sexual advances on his assistant. Kincaid is obnoxiously overcareful to avoid offending his black colleague, while Everett abuses this deference for amusement and personal benefit.

And somehow, amid a cast of misshapen lunatics, serious thoughts begin to emerge about the nature of history and narrative, about the way we read the world around us. Somehow, misguided as he is, Strom Thurmond's insistence that he is more responsible for the history of the African-American people than anyone begins to teach us how to ask the right questions about who writes history and how they interpret it. The book shows when and how to question the historical canon, when and how to embrace minority opinions, asks whether it's ever necessary to decide on a definitive answer. And I have no idea how Everett does this. It's magic, how he finds form in his chaos.
[identity profile] livii.livejournal.com
These two articles are available for free online here at Project Gutenberg. They are "My Escape From Slavery" and "Reconstruction".

Douglass is a fantastic essayist. His story of his escape from slavery is riveting: it's tense, dramatic, and passionate. His experience of life in the free North afterward is also briefly detailed, and again well-chronicled. He is honest and not romantic about the shortcomings of life there, yet has an optimism and drive for life that was very inspiring to read. His recollection of his feelings upon earning his first coins as a free man was a highlight.

"Reconstruction" is about states' rights vs. federal rights and emancipation. It's a pretty interesting look into political affairs after the US Civil War, and much of it still feels very relevant today (sometimes, sadly).

I plan to read his memoirs shortly, but wonder if anyone has etexts of any other articles/essays. When I downloaded this one, I was disappointed to find it was only two articles, rather than a true collection. Thanks!
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
32) Tempting Faith by David Kuo

Kuo wrote this book after leaving the Bush White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives, where he worked from 2001-2003. It's a memoir of his experience mixing politics and religion from his teenage years through his service in the White House.

It follows the standard narrative of politics corrupting the idealist, but features a few fascinating revelations as well as some stirring passages. Kuo's experience before the White House was largely as a speechwriter, for Bill Bennett, Ralph Reed, John Ashcroft, and others. My favorite passage:

The lesson soon led to another, much bigger one, about the role of government in caring for America's soul. For years a national debate had raged over whether America was falling apart morally and culturally. Like so many other Christian conservatives, I knew the answer: absolutely. New policies, new strategies, and political leaders were needed to help us reclaim America's greatness. On 9/12 I discovered something else.

At the time, I was put in charge of assisting "all" of America's charities and mobilizing "all" of America's religious groups, a task that both highlighted the White House-centric view of the world and showed how desperately we all wanted to help. Our office developed a massive list of ideas and plans: we planned candlelight services and telethons and moments of silence. Then we discovered the obvious. People were doing all of those things on their own. They didn't need us to do it. America didn't need anyone else to rally it. It rallied itself. The American soul wasn't sick.

The big revelation for me was that Kuo was involved in the development of a particularly insidious speechwriting technique, wherein a politically moderate speaker would insert figures from the Gospels in their speeches in order to communicate to evangelical voters, in code, that he was one of them. Kuo suggests that in the case of some of the speakers he used the trick for, like Jack Kemp, the speakers weren't even aware of the significance of the coded phrases. Talk about shibboleths.

I wish I had the sense that Kuo had deconstructed his belief that just because a person loves Jesus, their heart must be in the right place. It leads to some puzzling passages where he is trying to denounce some action of Bush's while insisting that his heart was in the right place. I leave the book unclear if Kuo recognizes the problem with this logic.

tags: memoir, non-fiction, politics, a: kuo david, chinese-american
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
40. Reza Aslan, How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror

A non-fiction pop book dealing with a wide range of subjects, from the history of the state of Israel, to the difference between Islamist groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Jihadist groups like al-Qa'ida (as well as the inaccuracy of referring to al-Qa'ida as any kind of unified group), to historical examples of other 'cosmic wars' such as the Crusades or the Zealot rebellions of the Roman Empire, to the history of Fundamentalist Christianity in the United States, to others. He doesn't always tie these many, many topics together as tightly as one might wish, but if you look at the book as a smorgasbord of various information about the "war on terror", it's a pretty awesome book.

One of my favorite things about Aslan is that he's a much more lyrical, thoughtful writer than I tend to expect from pop non-fiction. Let me quote a paragraph at you: "When I close my eyes, I see white. Strange how synesthetic memory can be. I am certain the insular town of Enid, Oklahoma, where my family alighted three decades ago, was chockablock with buildings, homes, churches, parks. And surely other seasons came and went in the stretch of time we lived there, months when the city's empty streets were not blanketed in snow and the sky did not rumble with dark and silvery clouds. But I remember none of that. Only the clean, all-encompassing whiteness of Enid, Oklahoma, snow as it heaped on the sidewalks, perched on the trees, and settled evenly over the glassy lake." See? How can you not be willing to spend a couple of hundred pages with the man, even if he wasn't telling you fascinating, important things.

Overall, I think I prefer Aslan's other book, No God But God, to this one, but for a broad summary of many things relating to modern Middle Eastern politics and the American response, this book is great.
[identity profile] sweet-adelheid.livejournal.com
Digger J Jones Digger J Jones by Richard J Frankland (Scholastic, 2007)

Richard Frankland is a well known and highly regarded playwright. This is his first novel: the diary of a Koori boy in 1967, with links to the community at Lake Condah, to the indigenous political organisations centred in Northcote (Melbourne) leading up to the May 27th referendum.

This book does - from my clueless white girl viewpoint - a marvelous job of explaining what was going on in 1967. Vietnam. The referendum. The sheer stupidity of the mere need for the referendum.

The emnity-into-friendship of Digger and Darcy is a highlight of the book: the way that they are forced, again and again, into each other's orbit. I love the involvement of the churches (historically accurate, thank you) in the whole thing: the Catholic church through Sister Ally, and the Aboriginal Evangelical Fellowship (I have to assume) through Digger's family. (I do wish I wasn't constantly wanting to call him "Dumby", though. It's the effect of having every Year Nine in my school studying Deadly, Unna? this year.)

It's at least as good as as Anita Heiss' Who Am I? The Diary of Mary Talance, and it's great to see Frankland writing YA books. While I'm sure this has used a lot of Frankland's own life experience (like Digger, Frankland is a Gunditjmara man with links to Condah), I hope he goes on to write more.

(New tags: a: frankland richard)
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
 #30. Luba: The Book of Ofelia (Vol. 2 in the Luba trilogy; Vol. 21 in the Complete Love & Rockets)

2005 (material originally published 1998-2005), Fantagraphics Books

Warning: Long and obsessive plot details ahead!  This is a crazy long book -- 240 pages -- and incredibly dense, for a graphic novel.  Also, the storytelling modalities are highly refined and self-referential, full of interweaving, flashback and allusion; and also it's Part 2 of a three-part series-within-a-series.  So I take these reviews as an opportunity to parse the plot, to assure myself that I've actually followed what the hell is going on.

So!  This is the second part of Gilbert ("Beto") Hernandez's trilogy about the latest adventures of Luba, his protagonist, in America.  (For basics about Luba, you can see my earlier post about the previous book in this series.)

At this point in time, Luba and her children are in the United States, but her husband Khamo is stuck in immigration limbo.  Luba continues her quest to figure out what she must -- or can -- do in order to untangle his shady past, police record, and hazy criminal associations, so that she can bring him to join them.  (Like most of Luba's accomplishments, this is not really hindered -- and is perhaps made more impressive -- by that fact that, like some of the other main characters living in the United States, she still can't speak a word of English.)


Much of this section's narrative mechanics is fueled by the announcement that Ofelia, Luba's long-suffering older cousin, has decided to finally try being the writer she has always wanted to be.  This in-progress "book of Ofelia" gives, perhaps, the collection its title, although the phrasing also seems to imply (in its Biblical cadence) that she is instead the main subject of the book.  (Except that she isn't, really; she's not present throughout.  I keep thinking about the way that, in Spanish -- as I think I understand it, anyway -- this phrase, "el libro de Ofelia," does not make a distinction between the book *by* Ofelia and the book *about* her.  So this book, perhaps, is both.)


(On that note: one other thing I like is how much of the book's dialogue and internal thought-monologues are in Spanish.  The switches back and forth are frequent but consistent: the Latin American-born children tend to speak in fluent English to each other, but use Spanish with their parents, and to think in it when introspection is called for; the American-born children and adults think in English, although they frequently and fluently use Spanish with their relations.  Hernandez indicates the switches with the widely used comics convention of putting the "second-language" dialogue within brackets (and, in this book, some double-bracketing for other languages, like French).  When Hernandez' stories were set entirely in the Central American village from which many of the characters hail, he used to just put a note at the bottom of the first page that everything was in Spanish unless otherwise indicated -- a convention that Jaime has also sometimes used, e.g. in stories set among recent immigrants and jornalero workers -- but now that they've migrated to America, there's a lot more use of both tongues.)


So.  What's happening in the Book of Ofelia?



Obsessive plot details! Avoid if you fear spoilers! )


[Tags I'd like to add: a: hernandez gilbert, i: hernandez gilbert, california, children [*not* "children's"], magic realism, disability, meta-literature]

[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#20[b]: A Right to Be Hostile: The Boondocks Treasury, Aaron McGruder
2003, Three Rivers Press

This is hilarious. I remember reading The Boondocks on and off while it was running in newspapers (more off than on; I was moving around a lot and not all my papers carried it), and I remember being sometimes impressed but often lukewarm on it. I remember formulating the impression that it was presumably the strip's controversy value and what Amazon somewhat coyly calls its "notoriety" that made it such a big success. (What "notoriety" means here is, among other things, visibly black characters talking about visible black issues, often with no white people in sight(!), and, with enormous daring, going so far as to claim the aforementioned right to be hostile. In America's newspapers! In the funny pages!)

Anyway, reading this compilation, I'm forced to dramatically revise my opinion. This is fabulous stuff. McGruder's incisiveness, cutting wit, characterization and sense of timing are often nothing short of brilliant. The strip really does bring to mind the eminent predecessors McGruder cites as influences in the foreword (Trudeau, Watterson, Breathed). (All of which leaves me unsure why I didn't find the strip quite so awesome at the time, except that it does come to mind that collections allow authors the luxury of picking and choosing; McGruder may have wisely left out a lot of duds. ;)

Anyway. What is awesome about this strip?  Let me tell you! )

[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com
#25. This Bridge Called My Back, ed. Cherríe Moraga & Gloria Anzaldúa
1981/'83, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press

This is another book that is so full of... ideas and thinking and newness, and that has so many visions and so much emotion in it, and that contains both so much I can identify with and so much that seems deeply foreign -- I don't mean only the experiences and attitudes of the women who wrote it, but also, which is harder for me to assimilate, the lens through which they view the world: the moment of history, cultural and political, in which thy formulated these ideas and these manifestoes -- that I feel overwhelmed when I try to think about posting a review of it.

But I also feel kind of like a coward for backing out of reviewing it. What to do? I think I will let it simmer for a while. I may also read the much more recent companion book to it (this bridge we call home, used, I see, as an icon for this group ;), and see if that helps me understand, and bridge the thirty years of historical difference between these women and me.

[tags I would add if I could: assimilation, sociology, spirituality [or: religion/spirituality], puerto rican, a: morales rosario, a: rushin donna kate, a: wong nellie, a: lee mary hope, a: littlebear naomi, a: lim genny, a: yamada mitsuye, a: valerio anita, a: cameron barbara, a: levins morales anita, a: carillo jo, a: daniels gabrielle, a: moschkovich judit, a: davenport doris, a: gossett hattie, a: smith barbara, a: smith beverly, a: clarke cheryl, a: noda barbara, a: woo merle, a: quintanales mirtha, a: anzaldua gloria, a: alarcon norma, a: combahee river collective, a: canaan andrea, a: parker pat] 

(Also, apropos of nothing: Whoo! Halfway through! This book feels like an appropriate one for that milestone.)

[identity profile] ms-erupt.livejournal.com
06. How Far We Slaves Have Come! by Nelson Mandela; Fidel Castro
Pages: 83
Genre: Non-fiction; World Politics; Diplomacy and International Relations; South Africa; Latin America
Rating: 5/10; May or May Not Recommend

Short review and possibly spoilery review. )

Comments may contain spoilers.
[identity profile] sweet-adelheid.livejournal.com
This gets me totally and completely up to date on posting reviews to [livejournal.com profile] 50books_poc. Until I finish my next book, anyway...

Us Mob by Mudrooroo (1995, Angus & Robertson)

This is going on my "want to own" and "Indigenous Australia 101" lists. It does exactly what it says on the cover: provide an introduction to a whole lot of issues relating to Indigenous Australians. It's organised by general topic area, with chapters on health, spirituality, language, education, politics, land rights... It's immediately post-Mabo, so it's about fifteen years old at this point. The concluding chapter looks forward so specifically to 2000 as hopefully being the year of Australia becoming a republic that it hurts. (In fact, when this was published, Howard wasn't in government yet: ain't *that* a sobering thought. Things were about to get a whole lot worse...)

Highlights/Lowlights )

Fabulous book, well worth time and effort.

Tags needed: a: mudrooroo
[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com

#24. The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, Gwendolyn Brooks [obviously!], edited by Elizabeth Alexander

2005, Library of America (American Poets Project)


This book is really intensely interesting.  Gwendolyn Brooks was a very important Modernist, and this volume showcases many of her better-known short works, but it also samples from each of her books (which were real poetry books, that is, planned around central conceits and doing a book's work), as well as from her longer narrative works.  It covers years and years, from the start of her long career to its end in her old age, and you can watch the changes both in her style and in her interests.  (Of the latter, the most obvious is the change that comes when she became interested in applying poetry to the politics of the civil rights movement, and vice versa.)


The editor did a really good job, I think, putting together a small book out of 55 years' work like that.  The editor herself, Elizabeth Alexander, is a poet and professor of poetry at Yale.  (She is also African American.)  I hadn't heard of her before reading this book -- or thought I hadn't -- but then realized, retrospectively, that I actually probably had, because she was selected to write and read the inauguration poem at Obama's inauguration in January.


(Also also, the book has a cover design by Chip Kidd, which is one reason its design is so eye-catching and awesome. ;)



Some quotations from the Brooks poems in the book... )


[Tags I would add if I could: chicago, color/colorism, harlem, history.]

[identity profile] whereweather.livejournal.com

 #23.  Bayou, Vol. 1,  Jeremy Love (writer, illustrator) with Patrick Morgan (colors)
2009, Gettosake and ZudaComics.com (online), D.C. Comics (print version)

A shoutout to [info] 
chipmunk_planet for posting about this book back in June.  This is the first -- and, I know, not the last -- book I've discovered via this comm that I would have overlooked otherwise, and which I found absolutely amazing

Bayou is an incredibly creepy, graphically startling work of deepest [Black] Southern Gothic, set in rural Mississippi in the 1930s and featuring as hero the courageous young daughter of a sharecropper.    

All by itself, that premise would make it kind of remarkable: heroic little girls are in markedly short supply in the comics, much less poor, ragged black ones.  The ambition and underlying coherence of this comic's vision, and the graphic aplomb with which it is executed, make it downright astonishing.  I am really impressed by Bayou.  My only serious complaint about the print version is that this "Volume 1" is really not complete; the story is published serially online, at ZudaComics.com (under the aegis of D.C. Comics), and although this book collection heralds itself as "the first four chapters of the critically acclaimed webcomic series," it doesn't end with much closure -- the author was clearly not planning these chapters to be a self-contained story arc.  (That said, it just drove me online to see What Happened Next. :)
 You can read it online, too (if you have a fast enough connection...)

More about the story... )


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