Review: The Water is Wide

The Water is Wide
Pat Conroy

#readingisresistance

Title: The Water is Wide
Author: Pat Conroy
Published: 1987
ISBN-10: 0-553-26893-7
Publisher: Bantam Books

The people on the island are black.  And, my God, the hopelessness of teaching in a black school cut off from society by water, is an agony few people have experienced.  (p. 234)

The Water is Wide came to me in an exchange with one of my nieces.  We’ve started sending each other books we’ve read and want the other one to enjoy.  “He’s kinda big deal around here [in Charleston, SC].”  I had no idea.

If the only book Conroy ever wrote was The Water is Wide, he’d be a big deal to me.  Because The Water is Wide resonates as though it was written last year, not in 1972 about experiences Conroy had teaching black students on an island separated from the rest of the world by a tidal river.

1969’s young teacher could be any teacher today.  Passionate about changing his students’ outlook, teaching them to use their minds for more than just remembering the alphabet and the multiplication tables.

What he encounters is heart breaking.  A black community with nothing, literally.  A two-room schoolhouse filled with children K-12 who cannot read, do not know their alphabet, much less they are American citizens and their island is part of a country called USA.  These children, and their parents, live a hardscrabble existence with no plumbing, no telephones, no books, and no hope.

It sounds like so many students in our contemporary era.  Inner city kids who get passed on without learning anything on the way.  Urban kids, of all races, with problems too large to be handled by a school bureaucracy still dominated by men.

I’ve seen first hand the poverty which keeps our children from getting any kind of education aside from survival.  I’ve also seen the well-meaning white liberals who do the wrong thing because all their knowledge about kids like the ones in Conroy’s book is theoretical.  On the other hand, I’ve seen what happens when no one wants to be bothered, only paying attention to the star athletes nurtured to get a scholarship at a big college and then go pro.

Conroy’s story is so familiar.  He writes with accuracy about the stupidity of bureaucracy, the banal finality of racism, and the incredibly foolish ways willing students and passionate teachers are ignored.

There are many fascinating stories about how Conroy connected with his students, and their families.  The reader goes on field trips off the island with them, flabbergasted at the things one takes for granted as common decency and sense.  A little boy peeing in the middle of a square raises an eyebrow, until one realizes that on the island everyone pees where they are when they need.  Their propriety is different.

Betsy DeVos would be horrified at the way these children behave.  Horrified, and quick to throw some racist shade disguised in politically correct verbiage about school vouchers, charter schools and school choice.  Completely missing the point.

35 years after this book was published, there’s just as much to be angry at, and baffled by.  In 2017 we should know better, we should do better.  Apparently, “we” don’t know and don’t care.  Two days in to the new administration and it’s clear there’s a lot to resist coming our way.  Pat Conroy’s book, The Water is Wide, is a reminder of just how bad it was, and still is, and just how much farther we have to go to reach an educated critical mass who can think their way through the many complex problems facing the world.  Education may be the key, but people like Betsy DeVos are the lock.

For the Yamacraw children I can say little.  I don’t think I changed the quality of their lives significantly or altered the inexorable fact they were imprisoned by the very circumstances of their birth.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

What’s Auntie Reading Now: The Beautiful Struggle

What’s Auntie reading now?
The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

Save

Review: Between the World and Me

Between Me and the World
Ta-Nehisi Coates

#readingisresistance

Title: Between the World and Me
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0-8129-9354-7
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Hate gives identity.  (p. 60)

I rarely say this about any writer I read.  Clearly, I enjoy many authors and have learned quite a bit from reading.  But I rarely say I think their work is important to anyone but me.   Ta-Nehisi Coates’ work is important, and it should be read by everyone.

Written in the form of a letter to his son, Coates explains what it means to be a black male in America.  The fragility of a black man’s body, based on the need to know how to navigate the physical world without incurring the wrath of anybody along the way.

It was hard to for me to imagine how fraught life could be for someone like Ta-Nehisi Coates.  How could I?  My experiences growing up white in mostly safe neighborhoods where I could concentrate on enriching my life would never have prepared me for understanding what it’s like to be black, and male, in America.

To yell ‘black-on-black crime’ is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.  (p. 111)

There’s a lot to think about here, and Coates does it so elegantly and eloquently.  Between the World and Me changed my understanding .  Having to explain to his son what to it’s like to grow up black and male in America, to explain why his parents are hard on him, or why their reactions often seem overly harsh, is to be uncommonly self-aware.

Never have I read such a powerful work.  Never.  His description of navigating his Baltimore neighborhood was rife with literal boundaries and secret codes, any violation of which could get him beat up.  Ta-Nehisi Coates attempts to make sense of the senseless.   While explaining to his son, it becomes clear that there is a sort of sense in the chaos, but only to those who are so invested in making sure the “other” oppressed.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ work is important, his words are important.  They’re important because they point to the nonsensical and say, “How can this make sense?”

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Personal Log: 2017’s Wondrous Start

Proud Auntie Trying on Jeans

Wow …Apparently publishing weekly was just too much for me.  My ambitions for a close look at my transformation, including recipes and menus, became too big.  At the time I stopped writing I hadn’t realized how intimidating my vision was.  Mostly, I think getting used to the work involved of setting new habits and a new lifestyle took a lot of my energy.  After hours of planning, cooking and prepping meals for the week I didn’t have much left in the tank.

And, of course, I beat myself up for this.  I’m not sure exactly who I thought I was letting down.  My stats show I have a fictitious ravening horde drooling to get their eyeballs on my latest missive all about me, and my journey.

It’s January 2017 and 0130 on a Saturday night.  This is my favorite time.  Everything’s quiet.  I’ve puttered around, run errands, had a nap and feel energetic.  I don’t have nights like this a lot anymore.  Truth be told, I miss it.

So let me catch you up.  I know you’re simply dying to  read the latest stats.  Over nine months and 70 pounds.  BP has remained in the normal range for three months, so the meds can go away.  Before mid-December I was walking 1.5 miles four days a week.  My food is still healthy.

Healthy, but not tracked as tightly as I once did.  I’m trying to figure out if it’s something I should go back to.  This was my first holiday season without binging on comfort foods and grabbing for the cookies, lusting for a really good fudge.

Mom made candy for Christmas.  Fudge, penuche, divinity.  I never got the hang of it.  Don made a mean fudge with the recipe from the back of a marshmallow creme jar.  I can still taste the brown sugar, the walnuts, the buttery chocolate.  Bit I didn’t even seek any out this holiday season.

The first week of January got thrown to the planning wolves.  I was sick the entire weekend and got no meals prepped.  Safeway and its good selection of salads, and prepped fruits and veggies kept me going.  Not what I had in mind at all.  Grateful to know there’s an easy, if expensive, solution for the times I just don’t get it done.  There were several times I ate out as well.  I did okay there too.

Which brings me to my stress level.  Major changes going on at work.   Major life-altering, overwhelming changes.  In mid-December, a co-worker in the Development team left and I was given a lot of his job to do.  Combining our jobs makes complete sense.  But December is the busiest month of the year for fund-raisers and I went from being able to keep up to inundation.  At this writing I’m still working on getting all of December’s work done.

Membership has also moved into Development and I’m now reporting to a VP who treats me like the adult I am.  No longer am I the temp sitting in the corner doing data entry, I’m now truly the Membership Manager with her own place at the grownup table.  I couldn’t be more excited.  Last week was my first 40-hour week in over 17 months.  I’m still a temp, but that’s likely to change down the road.

So holiday season; blood pressure stayed normal and I didn’t gain any weight.  Huge wins.

Adding to the excitement is Grace, my 1997 Honda Civic which replaced Car, my 1995 Honda Civic with the crunched up hood.  Grace drives like a dream and has working heat.  And a clicker.  I love having a clicker.

Before I close, I want to mention a collaborative project I’m working on with my dear friend, Richard Derus (@ExpendableMudge).  He’s decided to make 2017 a year of activism by reading, and reviewing,  around a monthly theme.  And I get to join the fun!  It’s called #ReadingIsResistance.

And so it goes.  Gratitude and positive energy work have brought such enormous changes to me.  How can I not be grateful?

Oh, and the picture up top?  That’s what I look like today.  70 pounds lighter, wearing a brand-new 2X t-shirt which is BAGGY, trying on size 18 jeans.  Life is great!

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

What’s Auntie Reading Now: The Water is Wide

The Water is Wide
by Pat Conroy

#ReadingIsResistance

A great, sad story about a white teacher and his year teaching the black children on Yamacraw Island off the coast of South Carolina in the 1960s.

One of my nieces and I have begun a book exchange by sending each other books we have enjoyed.  This is her first gift to me and, she explained, “[Pat Conroy’s] kinda big deal around here [Charleston].”  It’s one of my books for January’s Social Consciousness theme for a year of #ReadingIsResistance.  Full review here.

#ReadingIsResistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

Save

Save

Save

What’s Auntie Reading Now: Foy – The Road to Lost

Foy

“If there’s a sea turtle flapping around on the table you have to deal with it. (p. 150)”

Gordon Atkinson’s writing has always resonated with me. There’s such a deep honesty and thoughtfulness in his work. All of his books now reside in my library and I am so pleased to add Foy to it.

Truth is hard. It can be cold and jagged. Foy faces a truth which is similar to each of our truths in ways we may not expect. His struggle with the hard questions is a fascinating story which opened my heart more, both to myself and those who flail trying to find meaning in our lives.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Review: Lock In

Lock In by John Scalzi
Lock In
by John Scalzi

Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
Published: 2014
ISBN-10: 978-0-7653-7586-5
Publisher: Tor

Lock in is what happens when a flu pandemic turns weird.  Some lucky survivors become carriers.  Even more lucky survivors have a paralyzed central nervous system, keeping their minds alive but unable to move.  Millions die from Haden’s Syndrome.

FBI agent Chris Shane is a Haden.  He’s also rich enough to be able to afford top of the line “threeps,” an outer shell which connects to a neural network in the brain and allows for movement.  A Haden’s body remains in a sling being taken care of.  Hadens don’t actually move their bodies, their brains move the threep, and can do other high tech wizardry.

This is a murder mystery, police procedural, sci-fi thriller.  With over tones of inequality (on several levels) and political maneuvering to give non-Haden sufferers access to the same high tech.  Then people can make even more money.

I have a running debate with a friend who does not read science fiction.  In this debate, she thinks things like threeps are just too weird.  She can’t relate.  And that’s okay.  My side of the debate is that none of this, of course, is weird.  It’s just different.  Neither of us can decide if it’s because I’ve read a lot of science fiction/fantasy, or if it’s just my easy-going nature.

Either way, John Scalzi’s world-building always seem real and credible to me.  Even if the bodies of old people are genetically re-engineered to be younger and more powerful (Old Man’s War), or it’s people adapting to being locked in to a body with no functioning central nervous system.

I wouldn’t mind if there was a series featuring agents Chris Shane and Leslie Vann.  It would be very interesting to see what happens in this world created by John Scalzi as it evolves and adapts to new laws, and new attitudes.

Apparently, there was a big kerfuffle over something in the book I didn’t even notice until I read about it.  And when I thought about it, I spend more time thinking about the automatic assumption I had made, rather than the thing being kerfuffled.  But you’ll have to figure that out on your own.

Save

Review: Prague Winter

Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman
Prague Winter
by Madelein Albright

Title: Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948
Author: Madeleine Albright
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-203031-3
Publisher: Harper Collins

I have long admired Madeleine Albright, the first woman to become Secretary of State in the US.  To rise to that level and make a difference seems to me to be an astonishingly difficult job.  To do it as a woman raises the difficulty scale even higher.

In The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs, Albright discusses the role religion has played in world affairs, something that isn’t going to go away any time soon.  She also reveals hard truths about herself, including the fact she didn’t know she had lost relatives to the Holocaust or that she was, in fact, Jewish.

Prague Winter is a product of Madame Secretary’s research into her own history, which is intertwined inextricably with Czechoslovakia and World War II.

This is not an easy book to read.  This is well-researched, often emotional, retelling of one little girl’s life as Hitler rose to power and began to exterminate millions of people.  Albright was only a child, but her memories, backed up with research, make for sorrowful reading.

Focusing on Czechoslovakia and its struggle to remain a united, independent country in the face of internal divisiveness between Czechs and Slovaks, and the onslaught of Nazis and Communists under Stalin, Albright’s story reminds the reader that nothing, truly, is every simple when zealots and ideologues are in charge.

She is fair in her assessment, through the long lens of history, that decisions made by Western leaders, while short sighted, were what politics of the time demanded.  Neville Chamberlain will always be remembered as an appeaser, but what is rarely discussed is the force of Hitler’s personality and his ability to fool people into thinking he was a reasonable human being who simply wanted to strengthen Germany in the face of the disempowering Versailles treaty of World War I.

Albright’s story is one of heartbreak, and agony.  It’s also an important story to know, because the true atrocities of Hitler and Stalin often get masked by the statistics and overwhelming amount of information available.  Madeleine Albright’s story is about one family, and one country’s struggle during World War II.  It puts into perspective the horrifying truth of what it is to be “other,” when that means certain death.

Save

Save

Save

Save

What’s Auntie Reading Now? The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin

What's Auntie reading now? The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin
What’s Auntie reading now?
The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin

This was a fascinating read about the Supreme Court of the US before Rehquist died, when Scalia and Alito were the new judges on the bench.  Before Sandra Day O’Connor resigned.  Before so many things and yet, still we find the court fighting the things today that were fought then.  Abortion, immigration, affirmative action, abortion.  For the historian in me, a lot of fun reading and thinking, “Oh yes, I remember when that happened.”

Save

Save