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review 2017-07-10 22:12
Sarah Phillips by Andrea Lee
Sarah Phillips - Andrea Lee

This is a very well-written book, clear and evocative, and I particularly liked the early chapters, which evoke suburban childhood summers and follow the young protagonist through her first encounters with race. Sadly, the later part of the book didn’t jive as well for me, though the writing is equally good. The chapters are episodic to the point that it resembles a short story collection more than a novel (some of them appear to have been published independently), which I wasn’t expecting. It was also odd, given that this is presented as a semi-autobiographical work and people who meet the narrator identify her as black, to see a picture of the author – she looks vaguely southern European, perhaps Hispanic, and I struggled to reconcile that with a book about coming of age as an upper-middle-class African-American woman. (I realize that a portion of the author's heritage is African-American and she identifies as such, but that seems to me a vastly different experience from actually looking black.) At any rate, though it didn’t all quite come together for me in the way I expected, this is an elegantly-written and complex work with realistic, nuanced characters, certainly worth the relatively short time it takes to read.

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review 2017-03-21 14:39
Bud, Not Buddy
Bud, Not Buddy - Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud, Not Buddy is the story of a young African-American boy who runs away from an abusive foster home in search of his father. Along the journey, Bud learns about family and persistence. 

Bud, Not Buddy received a Lexile score of 950L, making it suitable for 4th through 6th grade readers. This book would be good to teach about African American history as Bud learns about the Great Depression and the Harlem Renaissance, as well as the increasing racial tensions. 

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review 2017-03-20 03:30
The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963
The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 - Christopher Paul Curtis

The Watsons Go to Birmingham is the story about the Watson family's trip to Birmingham, Alabama during the time of the Civil Rights Movement. Throughout the journey, the family learns a lot about each other, growing up, and racism.

The book received a Lexile score of 1000L, making it suitable for most 4th-6th grade readers. This book is a great book to teach about African-American history and the Civil Rights era. The book is based on true events, and gives an excellent commentary on the views and fears of many African-Americans during that time. 

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review 2017-03-05 11:39
Made for Goodness (And Why This Makes All The Difference) by Desmond Tutu & Mpho Tutu
Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference - Desmond Tutu,Mpho Tutu

In Made for Goodness, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner and international icon of peace and reconciliation, shares his vision on why we can find hope and joy in the world’s darkest moments by realizing that we were made for goodness, that we are wired so that goodness will win in the end. Archbishop Tutu is a spiritual leader and symbol of love and forgiveness on the level of Gandi, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Made for Goodness, written with his daughter Mpho, is one of the most personal and inspirational books he's ever written.

Amazon.com

 

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a Nobel Prize winner (1984) and a survivor of not only an abusive childhood at the hands of an alcoholic father, but also of the apartheid era in Africa. In this book, which he writes with his daughter Mpho (pronounced mm-POH, btw) who is also an archbishop, finally addresses the topic he's been asked about most over the years --- how does he manage to stay happy, given what he's been through? How does he continue to see good in the world and not lose faith in humanity? In under 300 pages of illustrative stories of hope and faith, he gives you your answer. 

 

Desmond's path has not been an easy one. Remember the alcoholic, abusive father I mentioned? He was actually principal of Desmond's elementary school in Johannesburg, South Africa when Desmond was a child. No escape for the poor kid! But he endured, survived and went on to become educated and highly respected within a career of service. By the time apartheid in Africa reared its ugly head, Desmond was a father himself. One of the quietest actions to signal the fight to come was when the lunch program was canceled for all black children in South African schools, though white students were still served. Then Prime Minster Hendrik Verwoerd's official statement on the decision? "We can't provide for all the children, so we won't provide for any." That moment was cruel enough but ohh if only the fight had stopped there! If you've read up on your history regarding this time, you're aware of the bloodshed that was to follow all across the country. 

 

Desmond takes up the position of archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. During apartheid, he serves as president of All Africa Conference of Churches. In the apartheid's aftermath, he becomes chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committee, dedicated to helping shattered families emotionally and physically rebuild their lives. His daughter Mpho worked alongside Desmond as a counselor to emotionally, physically or sexually abused women & children, rape victims and / or drug addicts. So you can guess, they were in the thick of it, seeing humans at their darkest, lowest emotional states. There must have been days where Desmond and Mpho had to have lost heart! This whole book is Desmond describing how they were able to stay strong in a world full of cruelty and depravity, dedicating themselves anew each day to building up rather than tearing down. 

 

Your whole life is holy ground.

~ Desmond Tutu

 

Desmond's work in South Africa, as well as time spent working in a refugee camp in Darfur, drove him to develop the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation. In 2009, President Barack Obama awarded Tutu the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

 

Archbishop Tutu ends each chapter of the book with a prayer poem, giving the reader something to contemplate on, regarding struggles within their own life. If you wish to pray on something troubling you but don't know how to go about wording it, these can be a useful tool to help guide your mind to a peaceful place. Tutu hits upon some solid truths on the subjects of truth, faith and general perseverance through life. While his message did get a little repetitive in parts for me, I can't argue with the message itself. The man's been put through the fire and came out the other side an intact happy man. His words have been field-tested, you could say! 

 

One thing that Tutu stresses in these chapters that did really resonate with me is the need to be realistic with oneself. We should all be striving for everyday kindness for humanity, but also keep in mind you don't have to be a perfect saint. You will have days where you get angry, where you break down, where you feel like you're not doing enough or that your efforts are pointless because the world is just too damaged. To this line of thinking he gives the reader this in return:

 

There is a relief worker who resides in our soul. In each of us, there is a dignified Darfuri, one who can find occasion for gratitude and joyful laughter in almost any circumstance. To whatever extent we recognize and act on those traits, they are there and want to be expressed. We can always aspire to be more compassionate and more generous, not out of some dogged need to be good or to be lovable, but because to give love is our greatest joy.

 

I was also moved by Tutu's words on "ubuntu", the South African way of describing everything and everyone in the world being interconnected. 

 

Some of the hardest truth to take (though the guy is right!) is when he breaks down the idea of freedom of choice. Admittedly, an amazing gift, but as he points out... it comes with a caveat. Freedom of choice also means potential for people to choose wrongly or poorly, which will likely affect a great many people. Could be you, could be someone else. So then he says, if your life has been negatively affected by the poor choices of others, you THEN have the choice to CHOOSE to forgive them or carry the weight of that anger / sadness / disappointment etc within yourself for however long you choose. Freedom of choice doesn't always mean everyone wins, but it gives you the freedom to choose how you react to the options provided.

 

I did really love Mpho's stone exercise for releasing hurt feelings, so I thought I would share it here: Mpho says to take a small stone that can fit in a pocket (but some with noticeable weight to it), put it in your pocket and throughout the day tell the rock what is troubling you. Whenever you feel that hurt or anger bubbling back up, voice it to the rock. At the end of the day, find someplace to set the rock down and mentally set down your weighted mind with it. Then walk away. Leave the rock there and walk away with a lightened spirit. 

 

Worth a shot! 

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review 2017-02-27 01:14
League Of Denial by Mark Fainaru-Wada & Steve Fainaru
League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth - Steve Fainaru,Mark Fainaru-Wada

“PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYERS DO NOT SUSTAIN FREQUENT REPETITIVE BLOWS TO THE BRAIN ON A REGULAR BASIS.”
So concluded the National Football League in a December 2005 scientific paper on concussions in America’s most popular sport. That judgment, implausible even to a casual fan, also contradicted the opinion of a growing cadre of neuroscientists who worked in vain to convince the NFL that it was facing a deadly new scourge: A chronic brain disease that was driving an alarming number of players -- including some of the all-time greats -- to madness. League of Denial reveals how the NFL, over a period of nearly two decades, sought to cover up and deny mounting evidence of the connection between football and brain damage. Comprehensively, and for the first time, award-winning ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru tell the story of a public health crisis that emerged from the playing fields of our 21st century pastime. Everyone knew that football is violent and dangerous. But what the players who built the NFL into a $10 billion industry didn’t know – and what the league sought to shield from them – is that no amount of padding could protect the human brain from the force generated by modern football; that the very essence of the game could be exposing these players to brain damage. In a fast-paced narrative that moves between the NFL trenches, America’s research labs and the boardrooms where the NFL went to war against science, League of Denial examines how the league used its power and resources to attack independent scientists and elevate its own flawed research.

Amazon.com

 

 

The Fainaru Bros. team up to deliver this in-depth investigation into the NFL's persistent denial that head traumas are a serious epidemic within the game of football, particularly on the professional level. With a whole team of journalists pitching in on this project to uncover the truth, investigating survivors of now-deceased victims, the Fainaru Bros. (ESPN journalists themselves) lay it out for even the most casual sports fan -- brain trauma is most definitely a thing in this industry and it needs to be more seriously addressed and managed. 

 

League of Denial focuses on the careers of some of the most high-profile NFL players, from the 1970s to the early 2000s, to be fatally affected by repeatedly unchecked incidents of brain trauma. The specifics of this brain trauma were first identified by neuropathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu after he found himself baffled by the odd results of the autopsy he did on former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike "Iron Mike" Webster. The Nigerian born Omalu admitted that he didn't follow American football, so he had no idea of Webster's celebrity status when assigned to do his autopsy. He was simply fascinated and perplexed by the case from a medical standpoint. 

 

Mike Webster played for the Steelers during the 1970s-80s. At the end of his rookie year, the Steelers won their first Superbowl. Throughout his career, Webster would take a number of hard hits to the body, mostly to the head. He regularly complained to his wife of debilitating migraines, describing it as an "icepick" kind of pain, but his official NFL medical records only show two instances where the team doctor noted Webster having a head injury. TWO. In a career that spanned nearly 18 years. And those two were largely written off as simply mild dizziness and a bit of low blood sugar. There was one record of Webster suffering a neck injury and being given an injected painkiller, but he soon had an allergic reaction to the medication and had to be rushed to the hospital. Fearful of losing his place on the team, Webster checked himself out of the hospital and played in a Steelers game the very next day. 

 

After Webster's death at age 50, Omalu and some of his medical colleagues looked into Webster's medical history beyond what the NFL had documented. Conversing with Webster's widow and still-living former teammates, it didn't take long for Omalu and his team to start documenting history of Webster struggling with depression, OCD, and paranoia, not to mention marital and financial strife. All key commonalities that would pop up in the life stories of future autopsy investigations of NFL players who had likewise died under mysterious circumstances. Further investigation aired stories of past and current players who admitted to playing through serious injury because they didn't want to let down teammates or they feared losing their NFL positions (which would threaten the financial stability those incomes provided for players' family members). 

 

Dr. Omalu put together all his findings and named the condition Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Prior to that, the condition was most commonly known as "punch drunk syndrome" and was most widely known to be found in professional boxers. 

 

But it's not just Webster that this book focuses on. The Fainaru Bros. also look at the cases of other players who have now been determined to have died as a result of CTE, a condition that, to date, can only be diagnosed after death. These cases include detailed histories of the lives & deaths of NFL players Terry Long, Justin Strzelczyk, Andre Waters, Merrill Hoge, Dave Duerson, and Junior Seau (You can read details on these and additional cases by looking at this CBS slideshow). If you're concerned about not being versed enough in professional football to enjoy this book, don't be. I'd recommend you to try it if the topic at all interests you. Though I enjoy watching football, I would not describe myself as a fanatic by any means. Yet I had no trouble keeping up with the topic at all. There are a few parts that got a little more on the technical / dry side than I enjoy, but for the most part I found this to have a nice pace for a non-fiction piece. I was also surprised at the gamut of emotions it pulled from me -- at times I felt that sensation of reading an action novel, other times I was enraged at the lax attitude of the NFL, even with clear evidence shoved in front of their faces, or sometimes moved to tears at the pain these families were put through. With Mike Webster's story in particular, it broke my heart to read how he was pretty much abandoned by the NFL after he stopped being financially valuable to them. 

 

After you check out this book, I would also highly recommend watching the film Concussion which covers much of the same information this book looks at, and stars Will Smith, who portrays Dr. Omalu. 

 

I still watched & enjoyed this year's Superbowl after reading this book, but I definitely viewed the game through new eyes, having this book in my mind the whole time! 

 

 

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Extras:

 

PBS Frontline did an episode which accompanies the book League of Denial, which I have linked below for anyone interested:

 

League of Denial documentary

 

 

Also, while I was going over my notes for this write-up, I came across a news article on SI.com that gives a surprising (or not) little update on the work of Dr. Omalu that you might be interested in... looks like he's still struggling with the professional sports industry accepting the seriousness of his findings, this time with professional wrestling:

 

Boston University rescinds award to Concussion doctor Bennet Omalu

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