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review 2017-06-23 18:32
Go Set a Watchman: A Novel - Lee Harper

The book was handed to me as a follow up from a quick discussion with a colleague. I decided to read it straightaway as I don’t like borrowing books from someone and keeping them for a long time. I honestly didn’t know what to expect: the title is ambiguous and the hype around the time of its release was quite substantial. All I knew is that it was by Harper Lee, the author of the famous To Kill A Mockingbird. I didn’t even read the blurb for the book. So, for some reason I was expecting another court room drama based on racial tensions of the American South. My advice: read the blurb.


Despite not reading the blurb, I was able to immerse into the book quickly enough. If you haven’t read To Kill A Mockingbird it won’t play to your disadvantage as this novel can stand alone on its own feet. The writing is not complex, but intelligent enough to engage the reader. The theme of the book is politically charged – I can understand why it would not be printed back in the 1950s. It is set in the 1950s and feels more autobiographical, personal rather just another novel about the history of segregation in the South. The novel is threaded with Jean Louise’s reminiscence about her childhood. These memories where everything for her as a child was black and white, right and wrong serve as juxtaposition to the her adult world where nothing is black and white and some things may seem wrong, but motives might be right. 


A quick overview: Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch is now twenty six years old and live in New York City. She returns home to Maycomb, Alabama on her usual annual visit, but this time something is off. She secretly follows her father and her friend to a Citizens’ Council where one of the guests is permitted to give a racist speech. Shaken up that her father did not do anything to stop this man, Jean Louise is devastated. As she looks around her, she begins to notice increased sympathy with these kind of sentiments. She finds herself on the road of self-discovery and making a hard decision: to either stick to what she believes and leave her family or stay with her family and submit to the growing feeling of the place.


The novel does not answer any questions, but presents the day-to-day tensions and decisions that many American citizens had to live with in the 1950s. I would say that it is even relevant now. I found that the author’s call in this book is to reason. That reason will prevail above all. For me the book was summarised on page 270, “But the white supremacists fear reason, because they know cold reason beats them. Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”

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review 2017-05-30 01:34
Reading progress update: I've read 480 out of 480 pages.
Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong - James W. Loewen

The honest historical marker:


On this site in 1897, nothing happened.  (p. 442).


This is the kind of book that needs rereading and reflection over an extended period of time.  There is so much to absorb, so much to analyze, that it can't be digested in one sitting or one review.


As inaccurate as most of the monuments Loewen cites are, he does mention that there are some that get it right.  And I wonder, given his particular focus on the sanitizing of Confederate history, how many of the accurate ones are really out there.  Has he given historical markers an unfairly bad rap?  Hmm, I don't know.  But certainly the ones he has cited deserve it!


Highly recommended, especially for its insights into how we got to where we are.  I would love to read The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader, but my library doesn't have it and I'm just not up to springing for the Kindle edition . . . . yet.

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text 2017-05-30 00:05
Reading progress update: I've read 399 out of 480 pages.
Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong - James W. Loewen

pp. 398-399


The defeat was hardly novel.  From the Civil War to the end of the [nineteenth] century not a single Democrat in Congress, North or South, ever voted for a single piece of civil rights legislation. . . .


Northern and Southern whites now reunited under the banner of white supremacy.  In the 1890s, Memorial Day celebrations organized by Union League members no longer stressed the need for vigilance against Southern attempts to overthrow the Union victory.  Often they invited Southerners to speak, who admitted they had been wrong to secede but right to oppose "Negro domination."  In 1891 [Henry Cabot] Lodge suggested that the U.S. should keep out "Slovacks" from Eastern Europe because they represented "races most alien to the body of the American people," and he did not mean African American people. . . . The Republican Party lost what little authority it still had to improve the lot of minority races.


These were not the Democratic and Republican parties as we know them today; they flipped almost completely in the latter part of the twentieth century.  The party of Lincoln is now today as racist and reactionary as were the Democrats of the South, of Reconstruction, and of the era of legal segregation -- roughly 1880-1950.


What's important to note, I think, is that despite the Union victory on the battlefields, there was insufficient backbone to impose the underlying terms of that victory on the defeated Confederacy.  When those chickens came home to roost after the second world war and the modern (?) civil rights era was launched, there was still not enough spine to make the laws stick.


In certain aspects, especially in and through popular culture, a more permanent victory was achieved.  But we still have a very, very, very long way to go, and the road is not getting any easier.

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text 2017-05-29 18:29
Reading progress update: I've read 317 out of 480 pages.
Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong - James W. Loewen

I'll finish the book this afternoon.  Making some notes prior to final review.


CH 60 - "The Last Confederate Offensive of the Civil War" was in 1995.


Ch 63 -- "The Greatest Female Spy of All Time"  without the usual sarcasm.

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text 2017-05-28 18:53
Reading progress update: I've read 199 out of 480 pages.
Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong - James W. Loewen

More and more disturbing, more and more upsetting, which is as it should be.


As distressing as the book is on its own, when coupled with the news that the state of Alabama has made the removal of memorials to the Confederacy illegal, the distress is amplified.


What difference do monuments and markers make? . . . Monuments and markers don't cause history.  It's more the other way around: dominant groups use their power to erect historic markers and monuments that present history from their viewpoint.  This process typically distorts the past to explain and celebrate their own domination.  In turn, controlling what people see and think about the past is an important source of special power. (p. 197)


I'm old enough to remember when there were no women newscasters, no black or Asian newscasters, very few people of color in major roles on television.  As a white child in a virtually all-white suburb of Chicago, it never occurred to me to wonder why that was.


Now, I wonder about everything, because there are so many things to wonder about.


A mining museum that never mention the environmental impact of mining or the deaths of miners due to explosions and cave-ins, lung disease, or exposure to carcinogens.


Monuments to racists without ever mentioning that their racism was what brought them fame.


Monuments to buildings that never existed.


Museums of war that cleanse it and sanitize it and glorify it -- so people will be more willing to support and fight in the next one?


In 1914 when Camden's [Arkansas] monument to Confederate women went up, most wives and widows and almost all mothers of Confederate soldiers were no longer alive; clearly the memorial was not intended for them.  Instead, like most monuments to the Confederacy, Camden's is future-directed.  In its words, whites erected it in hopes  that the "patriotism" of these women "will teach their children to emulate the deeds of their sires."  In 1914 the "Lost Cause" was no longer lost: regarding race relations, although not secession, Confederate ideology was firmly in the saddle.  The monument implies this triumph:  "Their inspiration transformed the gloom of defeat into the hope of the future."  (p. 198)



Some of the monuments are silly, like the one to a flying machine that supposedly flew a year before the Wright Brothers' experiment at Kitty Hawk or the reconstructed log cabin that was allegedly the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, even though it was built more than three decades after his death.  But most are alarming.



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