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review 2018-09-15 01:59
What a gal!
Condoleezza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me - Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me covers her childhood in segregated Birmingham, her close-knit family life, education, and rise through professional, educational, and political worlds. I went into this knowing almost nothing about Condoleezza beyond her serving in the White House under President Bush but by the end of this book I felt that I knew her as one knows a friend. I think what I found most surprising is that she still teaches classes (Managing Global Political Risk if you're curious) at Stanford University. This book runs chronologically as most autobiographies do but two of the biggest focuses are her relationship to her parents (she is an only child) and her professional life as an academic and political scientist. She is an accomplished, intelligent, and ultimately fearlessly ambitious woman. She has never married but seems genuinely happy with her single life (sounds familiar). She makes no bones about her many achievements which include but are not limited to being a proficient pianist and fluent Russian speaker. I also appreciated that she included photographs, a chronology of her career, and a glossary of historic events and people during her lifetime. I'd say that this book would be good for anyone looking to learn more about women in politics and/or what it was like for this particular woman who was raised during segregation in the tumultuous city of Birmingham...and still make it to the upper echelons of government. Good for history buffs and political junkies.  

 

What's Up Next: Recovery: Freedom From our Addictions by Russell Brand

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Star Trek Destiny #2: Mere Mortals by David Mack

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-09-01 07:26
Anger Is a Gift
Anger Is a Gift - Mark Oshiro

Warnings: Institutionalized racism, racism, policy brutality, police shootings, death 

 

I'm going to steal this line from Elena, because it perfectly sums up how I feel about this book:

"The more potential a book shows the less I’m inclined to be generous when it doesn’t live up to it." 

Not that this book didn't always live up to its potential. I think it met that potential and messed it in equal measure.

 

I've followed Mark Does Stuff off and on over the years, and discovered a lot of great shows and books I otherwise wouldn't have tried because of him. I often find his commentary interesting, insightful and funny. I don't always agree with him and the conclusions he makes, but he always explains those conclusions in ways I can understand and respect.

 

Still, I was hesitant to read this book. I was concerned that knowing so much about the author might impact the way I read this book, and I did keep picking out things he'd mentioned about himself or his life experiences being reflected in the characters and the plot, which was distracting to say the least. More than that though, given some of the things I've disagreed with him about over the years, I was worried this wouldn't be for me. And perhaps, in the end, it isn't. So I went into this with certain expectations I wouldn't have had if there was just any other author, and I honestly can't say how much of that influenced my reading.

 

There was a lot here to like, and a lot to not like. After thinking over this review for the last few days (more like a week-and-half as I'm editing this review yet again), I'm still not sure how to write one. So I'm doing a list!

 

 

Some positives:

~Moss's relationship with his mother Wanda was pretty great. Wanda supported her son, and she realized that by trying to protect him he was doubting himself.

~Likewise Javier and his mother have a pretty tight relationship too. I wish there would've been more focus on Javier's mom, given what happens, but she's kind of forgotten.

~Moss's love for his city and his community. He takes pride in being from Oakland, and it's presented in a positive light. Knowing Mark lived there for years, I can imagine he walked the same streets and road the same trains. He really brings the city alive.

~Moss and Javier's friendship was sweet and cute. I adored them and how they just sort of clicked. It was easy to see why Moss would have such deep affection for him over so short a time.

~Moss's ways of coping with his anxiety and how he remembers his father were well done also. As someone with anxiety, I could sympathize with Moss's spiraling self-doubts. The rolodex of memories he keeps of his father shows that had a great relationship, and it was clear how much his father's absence still effects him. 

~The action sequences were very well-written and felt like something you'd see in the movies. Or on the news. =/ The action just exploded off the page and was a big part of why I felt the second half was more solidly written than the first half. These are the parts that flowed the best for me.

~There's no closure. There can't be. 

 

Some negatives:

~The dialogue was often exposition-heavy and felt more like I was being continually hit over the head with an anvil as the world of West Oakland High was being established. Maybe that was by design, but I thought it would've been more effective if more subtly handled. Show, don't tell.

~On that same note, there's also a lot of info-dumping. Moss is walking through his neighborhood early in the story, thinking about who lives where and what they're like, but we don't meet most of these people. By the time we do eventually meet some of them, I'd forgotten everything that was info-dumped about them.

~The same thing happens when we first meet Moss's school friends. Each one is introduced with two or three facts about them, and that's pretty much all the development most of them get. I also had trouble getting a sense of their personalities since they all talked and acted the same. 

~White people jokes are racist jokes too.

~The treatment of Esperanza was abysmal. Moss gets angry at her because she doesn't 100% immediately understand his personal life experience. He doesn't have to make any effort to understand her life, but she's just supposed to magically understand his life and when she doesn't she's a bad friend. The resolution with this character was total fubar. Moss was a jerk towards her for most of the book. (Other reviewers have gone into detail about this.)

~The metal detectors: They don't work that way. I even did some research after that scene because it pulled me out of the book so much. The info that the vice principal gives them later somewhat explains it but it's never explained how a broke, inner-city school could afford any of this stuff, much less how the police could afford it in these days of budget cuts. Even at bargain basement discount prices, military equipment isn't cheap.

~The info the vice principal gives them was never mentioned again, even when Moss had that reporter's attention. 

 

We all know race relations suck in this country, and we've all seen the various stories about police shootings and brutality, and campus cops manhandling students. It's also been disclosed that the military have experimented on our own citizens, so the idea of something like this happening in a school isn't entirely implausible. In a near-dystopian future, this could be all too real. We also have a long history in this country of the police and military coming in to break up peaceful protests with excessive force. Situations like the ones described in this book do happen, and this book doesn't pull any punches. This is an important discussion, and there needs to be more books that focus on these issues. I just feel this story could have been told with more nuance and less hammering. Instead, we get a book were all the good guys are super good, and all the bad guys are super bad. And white. Because ALL white people are the enemy, doncha know. (No, they're not.)

 

I'm still not sure how to rate this. I want to give it four stars for the spotlight it shines on some serious issues and because some of the writing was really solid. The execution of its message often fell into the two-star range though, but splitting it for a three-star rating doesn't seem right either, so I'm leaving this unrated.

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review 2018-08-18 16:38
The examination of others that leads to the self
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is another title from the list of 100 books compiled for the Great American Read. (Have you voted today?) I feel somewhat chagrined that I had never heard of this classic until I checked out this list. The reader follows a nameless narrator who tells the story of his days in college while living in the South to his move to New York City. As this is set in 1930-40 the racial/social divide is still quite stark even in the North and the author doesn't pull any punches in that regard (i.e. expect violence). The beginning starts out with our narrator underground and in hiding although we have no idea why. In explanation, he weaves a story full of brutality, bigotry, backstabbing, and political machinations. He leaves college and goes to NYC where he is recruited into the Brotherhood which purports to strive for equality among all men regardless of race. Events unfold quickly and he fully believes and embraces the cause. The fomenting of racial riots are underway in Harlem (his district) and at this pivotal moment he is pulled out of his district and sent on another assignment downtown. The reader is kept on their toes and always wondering (as the narrator is) just which side is the "right" side and what is truly motivating the men he has come to trust in this (to him) foreign city. What is the "true" self and how does one embrace it? Invisible Man chews this question over while telling a story of one man coming to terms with the racism (both overt and covert) of society which is told so convincingly that you'll forget it's a work of fiction at times. This is a dense book and took me far longer to read than I expected. Several interesting points were made and quite a few powerful passages but overall it doesn't rate higher than a 6/10 for me.

 

A compelling and thought provoking point:

"For history records the patterns of men's lives, they say: Who slept with whom and with what results; who fought and who won and who lived to lie about it afterwards. ...only those events that the recorder regards as important that are put down, these lies his keepers keep their power by." - pg 439

 

There are quite a few covers but I like this one best.[Source: National Book Foundation]

 

 

What's Up Next: Comics Squad: Recess! by Jennifer L. Holm, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Dan Santat, & Raina Telgemeier

 

What I'm Currently Reading: ???

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-07-18 02:58
So much hidden meaning
The Intuitionist - Colson Whitehead

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead is included in the list of 100 titles chosen by American citizens for The Great American Read hosted by PBS. (More info on the books on the list and how you can vote for America's favorite novel can be found here.) In an effort to read more diversely (and to have the ability to recommend books for the adults in my branch) I started with this book as I had never heard of it despite it being listed as a 'classic'. The story follows Lila Mae Watson who is the first female person of color to be an Elevator Inspector. In the world created by Whitehead elevators are the height (ha!) of technology and the majority of the population see them as somewhat mystical and beyond the realm of ordinary comprehension. (There are even guilds which seek to elevate the status of Elevator Inspectors in society to those in political office.) Even more confusing to discern are the two distinct sects of theory as to the maintenance and future of these machines. One school of thought is firmly rooted in the reality of the technology while the other views them as metaphysical creations that can be 'sensed'. Lila Mae belongs to the second school of thought which further compounds the problems that she faces among her coworkers and the public that she encounters on her daily rotations. This sci-fi novel is rooted in the reality of race. What drives the story are the veiled discussions of race but it is told through the lens of technology innovations. It is ultimately a story of hope for a better world where we are 'elevated' from the weaknesses and barbarisms of our current reality. Whitehead challenges our perceptions of our accepted reality as he argues that established views are not solely based on what we see with our eyes. This is a book with a seemingly simple premise about elevator manufacture and maintenance in a world so very similar (and familiar) to our own but instead what we get is a complex discussion of race and how we can (hopefully) rise above. 9/10

 

What's Up Next: The Read-Aloud Handbook (7th Edition) by Jim Trelease

 

What I'm Currently Reading: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-06-21 16:13
Wade in the Water, by Tracy K. Smith
Wade in the Water - Tracy K. Smith

U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith's Wade in the Water is her most recent collection and the first I've read. I think it makes an excellent introduction to her work and wouldn't be a bad place to start if you're new to contemporary poetry. She does not intimidate, nor does her language obfuscate.

 

The two middle sections engaged me most. The first mines the Civil War era past and makes use of erasure and historical and primary sources in a way that both gives the suffering of African Americans at the time specificity and voice while absolutely illuminating continued injustices in the present. The second also makes poetry out of found materials to focus on contemporary issues such as the environment and racist violence. However, the poems don't attack; they feel like they come from a place of hope.

 

A book I'm sure I'll come back to soon, after I read her other collections, of course. :)

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