Faculty summer continues apace here at JOMP and that means a lot of messing around doing not much in particular. I’ve been reading but not at the rapid pace I typically do, although reasons for this are unclear. I think I was choosing titles that weren’t that appealing so I kept putting them down and doing almost anything else but that.
Now – I’ve cleared the decks and picked out a couple of new titles (details to come) and I’m hoping that that will do the trick.
Otherwise, I’ve been doing addicting word search puzzles, napping and getting some jobs done. I spent yesterday doing 5000 errands (exhausting but productive!) and today I need to go to the gym for a spell and then I’m hoping to hear from my doc about a current health issue going on. He’s usually pretty ok on returning messages so fingers crossed.
Happened to visit our big local mall yesterday (see errands mentioned above) and it was so interesting (in a sociological kind of way) to people-watch all the teenagers who were hanging out there. Very polite. Very well-behaved. I was impressed. Had a fun time looking at their sartorial choices! Can’t judge them as I am CERTAIN that when I was the same age, I was making similar clothing selections: it was just fun to watch! 😉
And now I’m actually in the office. My contract requires that I spend one day/week in my office and so that’s what I’m doing.
Oh, and we went camping. Now – I am not the world’s biggest camping person but we have a small camper trailer that we take out every now and then, and this time we trucked to Red River, New Mexico, where it was gorgeous. Look at how green everything is. (Normally it is a semi-arid environment so lots of brown. I think there’s been lots of rain recently or similar.)
As per, the SuperHero went above-and-beyond to provide an awesome experience – I just wish that we didn’t have to drive six hours to get there (each way). But it was worth it.
Now, I’m off to read the AP Style Book (my usual summer project) and then I might have something to eat. Nom nom nom.
Just happened to find myself at the library the other day – a complete accident, I tell you! /jk/ – and these titles happened to make it home with me:
(Top to bottom in photo):
The Old Curiosity Shop – Charles Dickens (F)
Seeking Pleasure in the Old Wild West – David Dary (NF/history)
Women of the Four Winds: The Adventures of Four of America’s First Women Explorers – Elizabeth Fagg Olds (NF/history) (not in pic)
The Great Gatsby – graphic novel (love this read) – not pictured
DK Eyewitness Medieval Life
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History – S.C. Gwynne (NF/history)
(Can you tell I was roaming the history stacks? It was glorious.)
So what am I reading right now?
Well, these are in line but at this very moment in time, I’m reading an adventure/travel writing book called Side Country: Tales of Death and Life in the Back Roads of Sports by John Branch and then a quick look at a title from the TBR: The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Salvomir Rawicz (1956), a NF about Rawicz who was a young Polish cavalry officer who was arrested by the Russians and, after brutal interrogation and a farce of a trial, he was sentenced to 25 years’ hard labor in the Gulags. In the depth of winter in Siberia, he escaped and crossed the trans-Siberian railway and headed south to freedom. (Supposed to be an amazing read so I’m looking forward to this.)
And my regular summer project of a reread of the AP Style Manual….
With the pandemic as it is (as I’m sure you know), it has meant a LOT of staying home and not traveling so the Superhero and I were getting some itchy feet and decided to visit the Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico the other weekend.
Now I’m not the biggest fan of camping in the world but one way I’ve learned that I do like is to take our tiny camper and the truck and drive off to the wilds somewhere. It was a five-hour drive one way (so quite a hike) but for distances around here in West Texas, that’s not too bad…
And you know what? It was really fun. I was so surprised. (Past experiences have not been that way, but they were long ago with different equipment and levels of attitude, as well. 🙂 )
For this trip, the Superhero had gone above and beyond in terms of being well organized and producing meals out in the open and I wanted for nothing that we didn’t have. (Very impressive to me.) It was so quiet out on the grasslands. Since it is open prairie, there are no trees and the view was never-ending.
The sunsets were amazing (see pic above) and you could hear the wildlife around you: mostly birds during the day and then a pack of coyotes at night. (Surprisingly, our dog (who came with us) didn’t really react to this, not even a bark or a growl. Perhaps she knew that there were more of them than of her?)
So – not a lot of reading but we did listen to an audio book on the drive there and back – lots of time to do that! – and then I read more the next day. The camping experience was worth it though and I’m looking forward to the next time (may be later this summer).
After reading The Invisible Man (1897), I was curious about other H.G. Wells’ work so picked up this title up. This was his debut novel and was shortish and fairly famous and is early sci-fi – all good things in my book. I enjoyed it more than The Invisible Man, mainly because the protagonist was much more likable. (I know that I don’t have to like the protag to enjoy a story, but it doesn’t hurt if you do like him or her.)
So this novella features the lead character called only The Time Traveller. (He’s given other names in later adaptations but in the original version, he is just called this.) He is an inventor and scientist of a type, and is describing his adventures at a small dinner party with a handful of friends. It’s an effective framing device for the story and allows Wells to show how the other guests react to what The Time Traveller describes in his adventures.
As with The Invisible Man, there is quite a bit of solid science talk here to explain how time travel could theoretically work, and in the early stages of testing, The Time Traveller only travels a few hours of time. As he gets braver, he continues to travel forward hundreds of years where he meets two new species of beings, the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are small surface-dwelling vegetarian peoples who are peaceful but not very active and have little initiative. (Was Wells criticizing the veggie diet here? Was he a big meat-eater in his real life?)
On the other hand, the Morlocks are larger warrior-type people who live entirely underground their whole lives, and it’s clear to the reader who Wells admires more. This is also a pretty political novel, just as The Invisible Man was in some ways, since it’s very referential to the social-class-based system: the weakened posh Eloi up above in the sunlight living a charmed life whilst the Morlocks are stuck working in mines under the surface of the earth, producing all the power for the Eloi. It’s not subtle at all, but that’s not to say that it’s not a powerful set-up at the same time.
The narrative continues with The Time Traveller moving even further forward in time, over centuries, to see how the Earth continues to develop and as the years drop off, he sees Earth collapse under the fading sun as society and its peoples fade away as the temperatures drop and freeze. Like I mentioned, it’s not subtle or hopeful, but if you read it in the political subtext, then it’s pretty interesting.
Wells himself was a futurist with a progressive view and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times. He was trained in biology at the Royal College of Science (you can see his science training in the writing), and he was an outspoken Socialist (also obvious in his writing that I’ve read). He married but messed around, including having a three-year affair with Elizabeth von Arnim and one with author Rebecca West.
I’m enjoying these reading adventures with Wells and he was pretty prolific so there is more from which to choose. Which one is next?…
What separated me from [India] was more than just the barriers of time. There was the further distance of my own false visions and the need for revisions. Fragments of memory floated in me. Some were once true but had, in the time of my parents’ absence from India, become false; some were true from the start and so remained; some were never true. To return to India in this way, as the son of those who had left, was to know dizzying change – and change as much in the seer as in the seen.
Strolling through another Dewey decimal number, I found myself in the world of travel and wanting something really different from Victorian books, I thought I would go to India and I pulled this one off the shelf. I entered the book thinking that it would be along the lines of a more traditional travelogue (albeit one from the POV of a returning resident) but it was a rather different read than that. It was good, for the most part, but it wasn’t quite what I had expected (although I accept that perhaps the subtitle should have clued me in a bit more).
Giridharadas is an American-born son of first-generation immigrant parents who emigrated to the US for new opportunities and a better life than they believed they could get if they stayed in India. Having only experienced Indian life through infrequent trips “home” to India throughout childhood, the author decides to upsticks and move back to India as an adult: to experience an “intimate portrait” of his new-to-him country and culture.
Having grown up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Giriharadas only knows the India of these infrequent trips “back home” with his family, and as a fellow immigrant myself, I can relate to how these trips, fun as they can be, are sometimes hard work with pressure to do everything and see everyone within the short time limits of the vacation. It’s a lovely problem to have – so many friends and things to do! – but it’s also pretty tiring at times.
Giriharadas wants to experience “real” Indian life through his own lens, as opposed to that of his parents’ own memories. What was the “true” experience of life in India? Was it as his parents (and he) remembered? Or would it be new and updated now that technology was widespread and easily adopted for many people? And how had that impacted the culture and lifestyles of typical Indian citizens?
So, this book is like a memoir in some ways: his parents’ memories seen through the filter of his own American childhood (and the visits) but it was also an outsider’s perspective on how life had evolved in the modern world for the India of today.
Chapters are divided into large themes, such as “Anger”, “Pride”, “Freedom” – large categories that allow Giriharadas to group many disparate topics together and which works for the most part.
As a reader, the different pieces were fit together like a jigsaw puzzle but it did wear a little thin towards the last third of the book. (But how else to cover such a huge variety of subjects? I don’t know.)
The first two-thirds was the strongest piece, the final third (as mentioned) was a little drawn out and rather too navel-gazing for me, but then I had entered the book thinking it was a straightforward travelogue so it may have been some of my own fault really.
Despite this slightly tepid review, I did enjoy the majority of this read. Giriharadas is a solid writer with good descriptive skills and a journalist’s eye towards the internal and the external world. As an Indian, he was allowed access to “real life” India via his friends and family and it’s interesting to read how his perspective changes the longer that he lives there.
People change – and so do countries – and it was thought-provoking for me to think that something similar might occur to me should I ever upsticks back to England after more than 30 years away in the Colonies…
Roads – Larry McMurtry (NF/travel essays). (In progress. He’s true to the title: he’s talking about actual roads. Dear me. It’s a little like watching paint dry in its level of excitement so prob. going to DNF.)
Plainsong – Kent Haruf (another blogger was raving about this title so thought I’d do a reread from a long time ago).
Total number of pages read: 2.739 pages (av. 304).
Fiction/Non-Fiction: 6 fiction / 3 non-fiction.
Diversity: 1 BIPOC. 3 books by women.
Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 5 library books, 3 owned books and 0 e-books. One borrowed book.
Plans for February 2021 include picking up a classic or two (but which one? That’s the question. I’m thinking either Dickens or Zola but I’ll see what jumps out.) I also want to include more POC writing. Continue this pace of reading and perhaps read more from my own TBR as opposed to those titles from the library.
And – just like eating a big old box of chocolates, there was a mixed bunch of offerings and for the 2019 edition, and only one stinker in the whole selection. 🙂
I was pleased to see that this edition’s editor was female – so often they are typically white males which usually means that 90 percent of the content are also white males. Fuller very ably turned that formula on its head and this book includes almost 50 percent female writers of mixed diversity. And funnily enough, the excellent quality of the writing doesn’t suffer for this proportion! 😉
Snide remarks aside, the writing topics varied from bachelorette parties in Nashville to a tiny village in China where dissident residents are taken on a “tourist” ride by the authorities to the aquatic world of the lion fish and its passionate followers.
In all honesty, I loved nearly all of the articles/essays included so I think that equals a great read for me. Referring back to the analogy of the box of chocolates, each essay hit the spot (apart from that one I mentioned earlier) and that might have been me just being a picky reader.
Authors included a wide variety (not sure of the ethnicity of these folks though) and their work had been published in an array of outlets, including Harper’s, Airbnb magazine, The New Yorker, the Smithsonian magazine and more, but every essay included was extremely well written and well organized.
If I were teaching a creative nonfiction writing class, I’d certainly require my students to read some of the examples as models to follow.
This was a true joy to read at the start of the new year. Hopefully, it portends lots more “pure joy” reads in the near future!
With the world in this state of flux (for all of the many different reasons), I’m really interested in learning more about the history and the lives of the many people who call the U.S. “home”.
At the same time, I’m also committed to reading more BIPOC authors and topics, so toddled off to the library to see what I could track down on the shelves.
“Driving While Black” covers some of the history of American civil rights through the lens of automobiles and their overlap with social history. This was a fascinating read.
As the cover copy states, this book “reveals how the car – the ultimate symbol of independence and possibility – has always held particular importance for African Americans, allowing [B]lack families to evade the many dangers presented by an entrenched racist society and to enjoy, in some measure, the freedom of the open road.”
And although a lot of this history may not have been unfamiliar to me, the manner of how these two topics were combined and presented was eye-opening for me, as a white reader. Through careful documented research, Sorin puts together a thorough timeline of the parallels between the introduction (and subsequent widespread adoption) of the car and the increasing social roles of Black people in America:
Travel for Negroes inside the borders of the United States can become an experience so fraught with humiliation and unpleasantness that most colored people simply never think of a vacation in the same terms as the rest of America.
The Saturday Review, 1950
Geographer Karl Raitz has described the American roadside as a public space open for everyone, but the roadside itself only represented private interests.
This presented a dilemma for Black travelers: sure, you can buy a car (if you can afford it); sure, you can drive your car along the roads for great distances throughout the U.S., BUT if you want to actually stop at any point along your journey, these “private interests” (the hotels, restaurants, rest-stops etc.) are not always going to be welcoming for you and your family.
So, the introduction of the car to Black consumer symbolized freedom, just as it did for other car owners, but only the freedom of driving along the actual macadam. If you, as a Black driver, became hungry or tired and wanted to stop along the way, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. Do you see the dilemma now?
Sorin goes into well-documented depth on this using oral and written histories to bring you, as the reader, into this problematic world. As the twentieth century progressed, American life slowly and incrementally improved for Black families but it was geographically uneven and in irregular fits and starts. Sorin’s decision to intertwine consumer history of the car industry and the social history of Black America made this a riveting read which made me shake my head as the stupidity of racism.
Throughout the twentieth century, America was a confusing mix of integrated and non-integrated places which made traveling by car hazardous for Black drivers without significant preparation.
What were your options for help if you had a flat tire by the side of the road on a highway? Where would your family sleep at night? Have you packed enough food and drink for the non-stop journey (obviously you can’t stop at any old restaurant along the way)? Would your life be safe if you were driving in this particular community after sunset? (There were more than 150 “sundown towns” across the U.S.). And don’t even think about what your choices were if one of your party became sick and needed medical care…)
It is insane that the Land of the Free allowed these horrible constraints on some of its very own citizens. How traumatic for these early Black travelers just to drive to see other family members!
You’ve probably heard of the Green Book (link to book review), one of several travel guides for Black drivers on where to go, where to eat and where to stay, but this was just one of several publications that were popular at the time. (Huh. Didn’t know that but it makes sense that Victor Green wasn’t the only one to see the need.)
As cultural mores slowly started to shift and the white-owned travel business saw that more money could be made by catering to Black business, more hotels and restaurants gradually started to cater to these new customers. The Civl Rights Act of 1964 further accelerated this program (although it was achingly slow in parts of the South), but people were stubborn to change and adapt.
The problem of [B]lack business is not the absence of [B]lack support, but the absence of white support.
John H. Johnson, owner, Ebony magazine, 1971.
And although life has improved for Black Americans in the 21st century, it’s still got a ways to go. (Witness: police brutality et al.)
In 2017, author Jan Miles published “The Post-Racial Negro Green Book“, which is her take on the historical travel guide but this one is a 2013-2016 state-by-state collection of police brutality, racial profiling and everyday racist behavior by businesses and private citizens. Yikes.
Suffice to say that this was a powerful read for me. It wasn’t perfect in terms of the writing (quite a bit of repetition which could have been caught by a sharp-eyed editor), but the content more than made up for that.
Summer is now here and for me, life has slowed down (but just until I start teaching Summer School). In the meantime, I’ve been focused on learning about racial and social issues and how I can impact those.
My first step in that plan is to be quiet, listen and to learn, so I’ve been doing a lot of that. On a more practical level, I’m also planning on working some voter registration drives – a cause that I believe will be critically important this autumn. I am cautiously optimistic that perhaps this country’s (and the world’s) social unrest will be the catalyst for some long-overdue societal changes but again – that leads back to the upcoming U.S. election.
I’d like to really encourage you to take some action in your own community, however you’d like to do that. If you’re interested in registering more voters, then you might follow up with your local League of Women Voters (LWV), a non-partisan non-profit focused on getting voters (of any stripe) signed up ready to do their civic duties. If you happen to live in a mid-sized (or up) city (or near one), I bet there is a chapter near you. Pretty fun and important to do at the same time.
Moving on, I’ve been reading some books, working on a jigsaw puzzle or two, and messing around in the garden a bit. Just bibbling around really, but it’s been fun and relaxing. Our local gym opened up the other day – thank goodness! – and so we’ve been spending time there, trying to catch up for the previous slacker COVID months when nothing was open.
I went through a patch when I had a reading block, but that seems to have lifted now, so let me give you a brief taste of some of the titles I’ve finished recently:
Wallis in Love – Andrew Morton. Let me save you some time here. Interesting story but it’s Andrew Morton. He writes for drivel such as the English red-top newspapers so it’s pretty hard to take him seriously, but as a gossipy frothy look at Wallis Simpson and her influence on the British monarchy, it was ok. No one was portrayed well throughout this recounting of this story, but at least the book was grammatically correct. 😉
Offramp – Hank Stuever. NF travel essays by Stuever who writes a little aimlessly about his journeys to the smaller towns and communities just off the larger highways that crisscross America. I had quite high hopes for this, but it was not to be. Although fairly well written, the essay collection was only tangentially related to the overall theme of road travel and was more of a lame excuse to lump these texts together. Not bad, not great. Just ok.
Mr. Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo. Fiction. Truly excellent. Will definitely make my Top Ten Books of 2020. See my review here and then go and read this book. You’ll love it (but let me know what you think about that last chapter!)
The graphic novel version of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Loved this, although it was a necessarily shortened recounting of the novel’s more-involved plot. Still, a good reminder of Atwood’s plotting excellence and gave me impetus to check out the third volume in the MaddAdam trilogy.
My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite. A satirical take on what might happen if your actual sister was a real serial killer and you were involved each time with the clean-up and cover-up of the victims. Well written Nigerian title. Good descriptions of life in this modern African country.
Tomboy – Liz Prince. An autobiographical graphic novel which looks at the role of gender and how its then-limited definitions impacted the childhood life of the author. This might be a helpful read for middle-school-and-up readers who are struggling to fit in with their peers without giving up their own individuality. Good artwork along with the evergreen message of staying true to yourself.
After this string of OK reads, I’m also relieved to report that I’m now thoroughly immersed in the 1946 novel, “The Street”, by Ann Petry, a Black* writer. An early literary thriller and a huge bestseller, this title is notable for being one of the first bestselling novels to be published by a Black female writer.
Black writing had been published before this, naturally, but the general term of “Black lit” typically referred to only male writing. This was a woman writer who had centered her story in Harlem and featured the hard scrabble side of life. It covers serious issues such as sexism, racism, poverty, and unemployment, but at the same time, the story has a seam of hopefulness and almost optimism throughout the plot. Really good read so far. More deets later.
*Note: I am using the term “Black” in favor of “African-American” since that is the recommendation from the National Association of Black Journalists and the Associated Press. See here for more details.