Nonfiction November: Week 2 – Fiction/NF Pairing:

With Week 1 of Nonfiction November now completed, we’re on to Week 2. The task: to pair up a NF title with a fiction title. 

Wanting to come up with choices that perhaps may be off the beaten path a bit, this was actually a little more challenging than I had first realized, but putting my Thinking Cap on, I came up with the following:

The 1936 edition of the Negro Motorist’s Green Book (the actual book itself, not the movie based on it) and Native Son, the 1940 novel written by Richard Wright. 

The obvious connection between the two titles is that they are by (and about) persons of African descent who live in North America, but what’s less obvious is that they were both written within four years of each other and when one reads these as a package or sequentially, they add depth to each other, different though they may be. In my mind, it’s similar to the difference between watching something on normal TV and then watching it again in high definition. (Or it could even be compared to an experience in virtual reality (VR) if you’d like to move it to an even more digital plain.) Reading the two of them just adds so much more detail and depth to what would otherwise be a fairly superficial literary experience.

Let’s look a little more…

Wright’s Native Son has a narrative arc that follows a journey (of several types) undertaken by protagonist Bigger Thomas, born and living on the South Side of Chicago and whose journey is both literal (the story’s main catalyst is linked with his job as a chauffeur) and psychological (in terms of how the action impacts Bigger and his entire life, as well as that of the people who surround him). 

The plot also clearly demonstrates the dichotomy between the interior (i.e. Bigger’s life and thoughts) and how they are necessarily impacted by the exterior (cultural, judicial, social/economic)… 

But even if this is all sounds too academically intimidating for you, please don’t be put off by the literary criticism side of things: I have no qualms recommending Native Son for just an excellently good read. (This novel is a rollicking experience to leave you with lots of thoughts, even if you don’t notice or see these same aspects.I understand that not everyone is lit crit nerd! :-} ) 

As a complementary read to this powerful title, I suggest the Negro Motorist’s Green Book (1936) which is a NF title* published as a guide book for African-American car drivers traveling throughout the U.S. at a time when it was dangerous and challenging for travelers such as themselves to find somewhere safe to eat, drink and stay when they were on the road. 

So, allow me to set the stage for both of these reads. 

Historically speaking, the later 1930s and early 1940s marked the middle-to -the-end of World War II and were a time of radical change for America in many ways. American soldiers (of all races) were returning home after military service armed with new job skills and experiences which would enable them to earn their entrance to the middle class, socio-economically speaking – a fact that particularly impacted African-Americans upon their return stateside. 

For many African-Americans, their military service years had given them experiences abroad where they were given training and responsibilities far different than their lives had allowed prior to the battles. For the first time, quite a few African-Americans had been placed in battalions and given the same job duties (with similar levels of respect) as their white brothers-in-arms were given. 

War impacted every soldier, regardless of what color his skin was, and so, when these servicemen (and they were mostly men, in terms of enlisted soldiers) returned home at the end of their military commitments, they had just survived life-changing experiences only to be expected to re-enter a Jim-Crow era of laws and cultural mores that had remained untouched from before they had left to fight abroad. Soldiers had just risked their lives for a country that now anticipated them to (re-)fit quietly back into the same old molds as before. Of course there were problems for all involved.

You can’t give a prisoner a taste of freedom and respect, and then expect them to squeeze back into their old cells without issue, and yet this was the case with these returning GIs.  (If you’re interested in more details about African-American soldiers serving in the armed forces, you might try The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks, a 2014 graphic novel about an all-black regiment who served in WWI. This link takes you to Goodreads since I don’t have a personal review for this (regrettably).)

So, despite the Negro Motorist travel guide being mentioned as published in 1936, it was actually updated and published every year between 1936 and 1966, so there would have been a new edition published in the same year as Native Son – the country had not changed that much for the average African-American, despite the ongoing war, and there would still have been the related Jim-Crow concerns for those with cars who travelled across the nation. Where to eat? Where to stay? How to stay alive when the sun went down to drive tomorrow? 

So, to me, Native Son pairs well with the Green Book since it would have been a guidebook with which Bigger would have been familiar, particularly since his job was as a chauffeur, at least for a while.  It also is a clear demonstration of some of the restraints and rules to which these returning soldiers would have had to bend, rules which impacted every aspect of the life of an African-American at that time. 

When you read Bigger’s story and then fit it into the national and cultural landscape of the Green Book and of America at that time, it’s no wonder that the novel ends as it does. How could it have any other ending without turning it into a fantasy tale? 

If your interest is at all piqued by this post, I highly recommend you take a delve into the history of African-Americans (and other POC/disenfranchised groups) in the U.S. It’s a fascinating rabbit hole with repercussions still echoing in the world of today. 

For the other nonfiction November posts, check out these: 

Many thanks to the hosts:

  • I haven’t seen the movie, so can’t speak to that just now. Perhaps others have?

Fun times. Total Nerd Fest, but fun.

You know how sometimes you have a weekend when it seems like you didn’t do much but you still had a lovely time? When you put all goals toward efficiency to one side in favor of doing not much? Well, last weekend was one of those. It was great. 🙂

Both the SuperHero and I had had a busy week, so by mutual agreement, we had no social plans and not much else on the books. Despite this, it was still a fab weekend for a variety of reasons. Plus – it rained. A lot. (Not very common for this semi-desert area and very conducive to hanging around at home.)

One of those reasons was that we went to see a matinee of the new Downton Abbey film… (Fun plus Alamo had put together a funny recap of the previous six seasons prior to the film).

Another one of those reasons was that it was the weekend of the big annual book sale at the FoL which, although I have no absolute need for any more titles, I went to. I typically take Friday afternoon off from work and go at that time to avoid the crowds but this year, thought I would take the risk of a Saturday attendance. 

(It wasn’t too bad in the end, but goodness gracious me: if there was one thing that I could change, I would make parents take better charge of their ill-behaved children: No, you can’t suddenly sit down on the floor in the middle of the aisle and read your book. No, you can’t run around screaming right now. Pro-point for bringing kids to the sale: the kids are being exposed to lots of books and the library itself. Anti-point for bringing kids to the sale: Think of the other people.) 

I ended up with a good stack of books, although heaven knows when they will get read (!): 

Non-Fiction titles: 

  • Home – Ellen Degeneres [2015] – (coffee table/interior decorating/design and I like this sort of thing)
  • The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks [1985] – (sounded interesting)
  • In Search of London – H.V. Morton [1950] – (loved Morton’s In Search of England)
  • Journeys to the Past – David Attenborough [1981] – (true recollections of his animal days)
  • One Writer’s Beginning – Eudora Welty  [1983] – (Actually thought this was another author entirely, so not sure about whether I’ll keep this one.) 

Fiction titles: 

  • The Forgetting Room – Nick Bantock [1977] – (he who wrote the Griffin and Sabine books and I loved those)
  • The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears – Dinaw Mengestu [2007] – (heard good things plus POC)
  • Life after Life – Kate Atkinson [2013] (heard good things)
  • Mama Day – Gloria Naylor [1988] – (love Bailey’s Café [1992] before plus POC)
  • The Darling Buds of May – H.E. Bates [1958] – (classic and been on list awhile)
  • A Death in the Family [1957] – James Agee (classic and been on list awhile)
  • Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner [1971] – (been wanting to reread this and no copy at library)
  • Cancer Ward – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn [1968] – (ditto above except not a reread)
  • Lost Horizon – James Hilton [1933] – (thought might be interesting and classic – also potential read for scary October)
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes [1962] – Ray Bradbury (for scary October reading)

Plus – I was completely sucked in to Jigsaw Puzzle world with this one (from a rug design by Frank Lloyd Wright): 

Movie: Chicken People (2016)

chickenpeople_movieEvery now and then, the Superhero and I like to catch a movie at home, and last weekend was time for me to choose the title, and full kudos to Superhero for going along with this, as he’s never sure what exactly I’m going to select and he’s going to watch.

At first, I was veering towards a rather stern documentary on North Korea (a country with which I am fascinated at the moment), but seeing his expression when I mentioned that title, I thought that a different title might sit better. Scrolling through my movie list, I stumbled upon another documentary that was described as “charming and uplifting”, so that’s the one we watched. It was actually really good.

Called “Chicken People” and directed by Nicole Lucas Haimes, IMDb describes it thus:

Chicken People is a funny and uplifting look at the world of show chickens and the people who love them. Starting at the largest national poultry competition, likened to the Westminster Dog Show for chickens, Chicken People follows three top competitors over the course of a year as they grapple with life’s challenges while vying to win the next year’s crown. Both humorous and heartfelt, Chicken People is an unforgettable celebration of the human spirit.

And it was such a good film. It’s always fascinating, I think, to learn about other people who are very serious about their hobbies (regardless of what that hobby is), and as we watched these three people try their very best to get the “perfect” chicken to show at this big event, we really became wrapped up in the whole thing.

It would have been easy for another director to turn this into a mockumentary (a la Best in Show et al.), but the documentary was done with respect to these people – no one was mocked or made fun of, and you ended up feeling just so happy that you’d been allowed to follow them on their individual journeys to end up at the hugely important event in the U.S

I would never have learned about the characters or the world of the show chicken if not for this film, and I have no idea where I found the title, but if you’re interested in seeing people who adore doing their hobbies (and are pretty serious about it), then you’ll like this. Slightly off the beaten path, but well worth seeking out.

If you’re interested in any chicken-related reads:

Screen Talk.

movie

It’s been a movie time of the year at our house recently, and so thought I’d chat about which movies made the cut…

miseryMisery (1994), the adaptation of the story by Stephen King and sooo good. (Nod to Halloween and holds up well despite being 20 years old), and so even though we know the story and what’s going to happen, it was still an excellent movie to watch. Definitely a good psychological thriller to watch that’s scary without being nightmare-inducing horrifying. I’m still horrified of hobbling!

 

 

 

how-to-dance-in-ohioAnd then ambling about Netflix, we came across the documentary called How to Dance in Ohio that covers the preparations a small group of teenagers on the autism spectra as they learn the skills that will be needed for their first real school dance. (Amazing film, a winner at Sundance, and uplifting whilst being realistic at the same time.)

 

 

 

And then, we’ve been sucked into the BBC’s Great British Bake-Off. Me – the non-cooking person sucked into this series all about baking – go figure. But loving it and we have the final tonight. (I know – we’re  behind but it’s still a surprise as we’ve avoided all the on-line spoilers.) Whee!

The-Great-British-Bake-Off

 

Movie Talk

sugarman_movieSearching for Sugar Man (2012).
After some friends had lent us this movie saying it was great, we watched it with clear palates as we had no idea what it was about, apart from it being a music documentary. However, it’s so much more than that and even if you’ve never heard of the characters or the story, it’s a fantastic poignant film about a mostly unheralded mostly forgotten artist who gets the surprise of his life. The Sugar Man in the title is introduced as a folk singer from the 1970’s who was on the cusp of being a super star in the U.S., but then the music deals just slipped away and he slipped into mostly oblivion. However, unbeknownst to the artist (named Sixto Rodigruez), his music has a huge fan base in South Africa and there, he is a mysterious musician bigger than Elvis. This is a documentary that films what happens when two South African fans try to track down what happened to Rodriguez 25 years later. It’s rumored that the singer has killed himself, but no one is sure so they search for answers. It’s a riveting journey for these two South African journalists and it’s great to see what happens when (or if) they meet the elusive singer.

This is definitely the best move that I have seen for months. Even if you’re not familiar with the singer or not that big a fan of music history, this is just a great story in its own right. Well worth watching. Note: The first thirty minutes of the film aren’t that great, but then it picks up and you’re hooked.

American Hustle (2013). American_Hustle
Meh. Way long in parts and almost never-ending towards the finale. Good story, but too much plot packed into too much film. Who’s hustling who? Great twist at the end if you can make it there. Loved Amy Adams though…
HerHer (2013).
Sweet and rather strange approach to relationships (romantic and otherwise) in the (near) future. Who’s to say that things won’t be like this at some point? Makes you think about who should define a relationship and how to do that… And, again, the love continues for Amy Adams…

Catch-Up Time

catch_up

So, it’s time to catch up with some things… I’ve been having some good reading lately, but only a few have been stand-out titles which trigger big and deep thoughts (as evidenced in my posts. HA!) Thus, some micro-reviews are in order:

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Blueprint for Disaster: Get Fuzzy – Darby Conley

A collection of strip cartoons (or sequential art if you want to be posh) about a mixed species household of human Rob Wilco, a bachelor who shares his space with Bucky Katt (a smarty-pants Siamese cat) and Satchel, a sweet mix of Shar-Pei and Labrador. Drawn by Darby Conley (and probably lived by him as well), this cartoon was syndicated in the late 1990’s, and no wonder as it is spot on its depictions of life with feline and canine pets. Satchel the dog is really sweet but not.. umm… very *quick* (shall we say?) and roommate Bucky Katt is fast thinking and quick witted, but with a slightly naughty streak in him. This combination leads to some very entertaining reading. It’s been a long time since I’ve indulged in some Get Fuzzy, and it’s still as funny and on target as it was during the 1990’s when I first read it. It just makes me smile.

And then we have this funny read (the Get Fuzzy) compared with the rather harrowing short stories of Alan Sillitoe in “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”. More on this later, but great contrast between Get Fuzzy and the protagonists of Sillitoe’s stories, along with lots to think about.

Agatha_Christie

And then I immersed myself for the first time in Agatha Christie. Don’t have a lot of experience in the mystery genre, so just picked a random title off the Agatha Christie shelf at the library (“4:50 from Paddington”) which I loved, and so then exchanged that title with another one (can’t remember which one right now). Looking forward to more Miss Marple, but will need to research whether they need to be read in a particular order or if they are stand-alones. (I know about the two series of Miss Marple and Poirot, but not the details.)

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Mary Roach is one of my writing heroes (and I wish we could be friends) – she has a new release out now called “Gulp: An Adventure down the Alimentary Canal” which is hysterically funny and smart. (Thus the dream that we could be friends.) Roach is a science writer with a great sense of humor and I have enjoyed all that she has written. This is another good one, and will have its own post in time. Just saying.

fallen_movie

And then watched a couple of really good movies (been lucky):  one was a psychological thriller called “Fallen” which has an ending which will make you fall out of your chair. (Good boy movie if you need one.)

The other was “Robot and Frank”  about a retired cat burglar who is getting ill with Alzheimer’s so his caring family get him a robot butler to help with his life… Very good. And at the real-life movies, looking forward to Ironman 3 (in Imax) and also The Great Gatsby. I have a feeling that the film will be better than the book… for once!

PLUS – I found out that I am not going to be laid off from my job so that helps to make everything good!

smiley