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[personal profile] brainwane
I read The Underground Railroad in 2016. I thought it was engaging, moving, and accessible,* and I nominated it for a Hugo Award (Best Novel).

Na'amen Gobert Tilahun reviewed Underground Airlines as well as The Underground Railroad in Strange Horizons and discussed several aspects of both books. That review mentions speculative elements in Whitehead's book beyond the railroad mentioned in the title, in case you are wary of spoilers.

I have read John Henry Days, The Intuitionist, and I think at least one other Whitehead book, and am trying to reflect on how Whitehead approaches and uses the railroad, because I think it's different than the way a lot of speculative fiction authors do, and has more in common with how other mimetic fiction authors tend to use speculative premises. I want to compare The Underground Railroad to Never Let Me Go, where the story doesn't concentrate on (or, sometimes, even mention) the origin story of the big plot premise, and instead the story is entirely about the lives of people living or resisting -- just for themselves, to survive or thrive -- within that system.

* I think Whitehead deliberately works to make the book accessible to people who have not previously read slave narratives, fictional or nonfiction -- I think he spells out subtext more often than he would if he assumed the reader had more of a grounding in antebellum history or the history of anti-black racism in the US.
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#17: Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching by Paula J. Giddings.

Ida: A Sword Among Lions )
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The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson by Jo Ann Gibson Robinson.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It )

The Bandit Queen of India: An Indian Woman's Amazing Journey From Peasant to International Legend by Phoolan Devi with Marie-Therese Cuny and Paul Rambali.

The Bandit Queen of India )
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The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday (Illustrated by Al Momaday)

The Way to Rainy Mountain )

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Illustrated by Ellen Forney)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian )
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Title: The History of White People
Author: Nell Irvin Painter
Number of Pages: 496 pages
My Rating: 4.5/5

Amazon Summary: Who are white people and where did they come from? Elementary questions with elusive, contradictory, and complicated answers set historian Painter's inquiry into motion. From notions of whiteness in Greek literature to the changing nature of white identity in direct response to Malcolm X and his black power successors, Painter's wide-ranging response is a who's who of racial thinkers and a synoptic guide to their work. Her commodious history of an idea accommodates Caesar; Saint Patrick, history's most famous British slave of the early medieval period; Madame de Staƫl; and Emerson, the philosopher king of American white race theory. Painter reviews the diverse cast in their intellectual milieus, linking them to one another across time and language barriers. Conceptions of beauty (ideals of white beauty firmly embedded in the science of race), social science research, and persistent North/South stereotypes prove relevant to defining whiteness. What we can see, the author observes, depends heavily on what our culture has trained us to look for. For the variable, changing, and often capricious definition of whiteness, Painter offers a kaleidoscopic lens.

Review: This was an interesting book, but I often felt like I was slogging through a textbook trying to read it (especially the early chapters), so I kept setting it down and it actually took me several months to finally finish. I just didn't find the writing style engaging at all, otherwise I would probably have given if five stars.

But it was interesting, and I learned a lot of things about famous people of the past (none of them good) that I didn't know before. It was also interesting to see how little anti-immigrant rhetoric has changed. A lot of things people were saying about Irish, Italian, Eastern European, Jewish, etc. immigrants is pretty much word for word what people say about Latin@ immigrants today. A lot of "oh noes, the right people aren't having enough babies and the wrong people are having too many!" and that sort of thing. Except it wasn't Those Brown People who were going to destroy the White Race, is was Those Other Inferior White People.

Also, while this book is called The History of White People, it's very US-centric. She traces things from Europe to the US, but once she gets to the US, she really never talks about whiteness elsewhere for the rest of the book.
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46. Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer

Big Ma said Cecile lived on the street. The park bench was her bed. She lived in a hole in the wall.

You can't say stuff like that to a kid asking about her mother when it's snowing outside or pouring down raining. You can't say, "Your mother lives on the street, in a hole in the wall, sleeping on park benches next to winos."
It is 1968. Three black girls fly from New York to Oakland to get acquainted with their mother, Cecile Johnson. Told in 11-year-old Delphine's wry voice, which never strains credulity, this deft book paints a vivid picture of Oakland and San Francisco at a moment of upheaval whose reverberations are still being felt around here, and elsewhere.

One Crazy Summer is the rare and brilliant Young Adult novel in which - without violating the constraints of the genre - every character is given his or her due. Everyone came from somewhere, everyone needs and wants something; everyone is capable of surprising depths and shallows. People change in plausible ways. Even the poetry woven into the story is convincing, and good; when does that EVER happen?

Slight as it is (I snorfled it down in a few hours) this book is as weighty as its themes, without ever losing its sense of humor. Very, very highly recommended.
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[personal profile] pauraque
I went to the library looking for something by bell hooks, because I read Killing Rage a long time ago and got a lot out of it. My library only had two of her books, of which I picked Bone Black. I sat down to see if it was something I wanted to read, and didn't get up until I realized hours had passed and I had to get home. I finished reading later the same day. I loved this book.

Read more... )
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7. Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy

This very short novel (though apparently heavily based on Kincaid's real life) follows Lucy, a young woman who moves from the Caribbean to New York City to become a nanny for a wealthy white family. There's little plot, and instead the book reads like a series of vignettes about Lucy's life, interspersed with memories of her childhood. The mother Lucy works for treats her more like a friend than an employee, leading to difficulties; Lucy adjusts to life in a new country; Lucy makes friends and has relationships. Despite relatively little happening, this is a powerful book. I found Lucy to be an insightful, cynical character, and really enjoyed her voice.

I actually read this book back in January and just have been terribly lazy about getting around to posting this review, but one scene in particular has stuck with me all this time: in New York, one day Lucy sees daffodils for the first time. However, as a child, Lucy memorized a poem about daffodils to recite at a school assembly, despite never having seen the flowers and their not growing in her country. This metaphor for the insidious results of colonialism and the ways it affects people really hit home.
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Beware of spoilers:

This novel will cut you.

There are only a handful of novels that I can remember affecting me so strongly that I had to put them down while I was reading them, the words on the page too much to handle. One of them was Alice Walker's The Color Purple. The most recent is Sapphire's 1996 novel Push.

The basic plot of the book should be familiar to anyone who was paying attention during last year's Oscar season when the movie adaptation, "Precious" swept through the awards circuit. A young teenager named Precious who is illiterate, unloved and sexually abused, pushes through her circumstances in order to find, if not happiness, then a little bit of hope, a sliver of light in a well of darkness.

Continue... )
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What we have today is a selection of not very good reviews. Why? Because I'm moving into an apartment that's half the size of my current place. That means that some stuff has got to go. So I'd thought I'd do these reviews before I got rid of the books.

Shadow Family by Miyuki Miyabe )

Waiting for Rain by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay )

All I Asking for is My Body by Milton Murayama )

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan )
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Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism by Cornel West.

This isn't a long book (218 pages) but it's a heavy one, and it manages to fit a lot of issues in. Highlighted are racism in the U.S., the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Christian identity in the U.S., and the importance of Youth Culture.

West is an eloquent and passionate writer. His respect and love for Christianity and American democracy is clear, but he doesn't hold back in his criticism.

I feel that too often "trying to see both sides of the issue" is code for "wishy-washy excusing of oppression", so I'll avoid that type of language. West definitely knows what side he's on. But he stays aware of the humanity of everybody, even the people he's railing against. I am in full support of this, if only because it ensures that those people are held responsible for their actions. West treats the oppressors (in all their many forms) as human, which demands that they act human.

Unfortunately, some of the final parts of the book are mostly about West's feud with Harvard president Lawrence Summers. The confrontation is relevant to the book, but it feels anti-climatic after the sharp and insightful look at world and national politics that the rest of the book gives. Checking, the West versus Summers content only lasts about ten pages, but it felt like more.

Overall, recommended.
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45. Tonya Cherie Hegamin, M+O4EVA

A very short YA novel, but one that really packs a punch. O (Opal, a young black woman) and M (Marianne, a mixed race woman) have been best friends (and sometimes more than that) since they were babies, the only two who understood each other in their rural Pennsylvania town. But now it's their senior year of high school, and they've been growing apart. Their story is interwoven with a old tale they heard from their parents, about a ghost who haunts a nearby ravine, the spirit of an escaped slave woman.

This book is hard to describe because I don't want to give away a major event that happens near the beginning. But it's excellent, a story about growing up and growing apart, grief, love, family, and the choices that people make. The writing is beautiful and powerful. I highly, highly recommend seeking this one out.
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43. Rich Benjamin, Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America

A pop non-fiction book about what the author calls "whitopias": fast-growing, often exurban or rural, conservative, majority white (usually over 90%) communities. Such whitopias are becoming more common, he argues, and many of them are some of the fastest growing areas in the country. Against this backdrop, Rich Benjamin (a black guy) decided to try living in three such communities (St. George, Utah; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; and Forsyth County, Georgia) and researching many more (including Carnegie Hill, in Manhattan and only a short walk from my own apartment, though that's a walk that covers a lot of change) to see what they're like, and what kind of people choose to live in them. These aren't sundown towns- obviously, since Benjamin managed to find places to rent in them- but are more like an extreme example of white flight. I picked this book up because I've been reading a lot of books about PoC communities, and I thought it would be interesting to get a black perspective on white communities.

I really enjoyed this book, perhaps because I'd read James Loewen's Sundown Towns over the summer, and Searching for Whitopia is the perfect follow-up to that (Sundown Towns is an absolutely amazing book, and I encourage everyone to read it. It is very worth its enormous length and many footnotes, though, the author being white, it will not count as one of your [ profile] 50books_poc books). And Searching for Whitopia really is an update; it manages to include research from 2009 and I always think it's very impressive when someone can manage to get a book from the writing-stage to the in-bookstores-stage that quickly. And that recent information is particularly impressive because Benjamin covers a lot of topics, from Latino/a immigration, to the history of the conservative movement in American politics, to the New Urbanism city planning philosophy. Benjamin approaches his topics with a light touch, in particular giving way more of the benefit of the doubt to the people he interviews from whitopias than I would have. He even gives several pages to defining the difference between interpersonal racism and structural racism, a distinction which most people reading this community probably don't need help with. Because of that, though, I think this book would make an awesome gift to someone who's not that knowledgable about these issues; Benjamin is very careful to not offend, and there's things to interest people who wouldn't normally pick up this sort of book, including an entire chapter on golf.

So, a book which doesn't have much in-depth information, but has good, up-to-date information on a variety of topics, which is fun and easy to read: overall, pretty nice!
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39. Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, Black London: Life Before Emancipation

This was a great book, but not quite as great as I wanted it to be. An academic work as readable as any pop non-fiction book, Black London deals with the historical presence of black people in London throughout history, although the focus is on the 1700s. The author says that she decided to write this book when, while doing research, a bookseller told her, "Madam, there were no black people in England before 1945".

I loved how this book didn't just give generalities about black life in the 1700s, but used the historical record to find real individuals and tell their stories: slaves, escaped slaves, servants, husbands and wives (it appears to have been quite common for black men to marry white women during this time), shop-owners, writers, the children of African elites come to Europe to study, the mixed-race children of Caribbean planters, actors, beggars, and on and on. I found it really fascinating and wished the whole book had been about these stories of people. Alas, about half the book is actually taken up with recounting the stories of two legal changes (and the mostly white lawyers, judges, plaintiffs, defendants, reporters, etc, etc, involved): the James Somersett lawsuit of 1771, which outlawed slavery in England itself, and the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which abolished the slave trade. While these parts of the book were interesting, they weren't as incredibly awesome as the first part. Still, I enjoyed this book, and am excited to see she has another about black people during the Victorian period.
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#35 - Michelle Cooper, The Rage of Sheep
YA lit by an author I already loved, but only recently discovered was a POC. Hester (like the author) is Indian-Fijian/Australian, growing up in a country town in NSW. The characters are marvellous, as are both plot and subplots. More here

#36 - Waleed Aly, People Like Us: How Arrogance is Dividing Islam and the West
Thinking a book is fabulous does not necessarily mean that one agrees with every word. This is one of those books. I think I'm more willing to mentally argue with the author because we're so very much of the same generation that we were in the same law school class. More here

#37 - Edna Tantjingu Williams and Eileen Wani Wingfield, illustrated by Kunyi June-Anne McInerney, Down the Hole Up the Tree Across the Sandhills...: ...Running from the State and Daisy Bates
Heart breaking. Heart shattering. Just as it ought to be. A really great, and effective, story of the realities of the Stolen Generations. In English with use of Yankunytjatjara, Kokatha and Matutjara languages (with translations and pronunciation guide). More here

#38 - Mary Malbunka, When I Was Little, Like You
The story of growing up as an indigenous child in a remote community: of moving around, of living as much as they could off the land. Beautiful illustrations, also by Malbunka. Uses Luritja words as well as English: as with Down the Hole the book includes a glossary and pronunciation guide. This is going to be one of those books I automatically buy as presents for every little baby I have a connection with. More here

Tagging - a: malbunka mary, a: williams edna tantjingu, a: wingfield eileen wani, a: cooper michelle, a: aly waleed, i: mcinerney kunyi june-anne, fijian-indian-australian, egyptian-australian


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Writers of Color 50 Books Challenge

October 2017

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