The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion How literature saved my life by David Shields Stealing: Life in America by Michelle Cacho-Negrete ~ read Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell spook country by William Gibson Boom! Voices of the Sixties by Tom Brokaw Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole ~ read The Wrong End of Time by John Brunner – DNF Invaders from Earth by Robert Silverberg Music of the Common Tongue by Christopher Small Self-Consciousness by John Updike
Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publisher’s Blurb: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a spellbinding and dazzlingly innovative portrait of a woman haunted by the past.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
It’s often difficult to tell the difference between an over-hyped book and one deserving of my attention. Thus it was between Beloved and I. Until an essay in The Methods of Breaking Bad made me think I “should” read it. The tipping point came over lunch with a friend who was absolutely shocked I hadn’t. All righty then.
The opening line, “124 was spiteful,” sets the stage. Who or what is 124 and why is s/he/it/they spiteful? That sentence leads into the deeply moving, dark tale of not so distant slavery and being black in America. Which story resonates today as we struggle with racism in modern times.
124 is haunted by the spirit of Sethe’s daughter who, we learn as the story moves on, was killed as an infant as protection by her mother from the slave runners. This “ghost” symbolizes all the pain, anger, and suffering slaves endured at the hands of white owners.
But then, Beloved appears seemingly out of nowhere and is suspected to be the corporeal manifestation of Sethe’s daughter. The chaos still exists, now represented by the physical embodiment of pain, anger, and suffering.
124’s inhabitants are the epitome of chaos as buried memories come to the surface. How can anyone go on after suffering the horrific indignities of being a slave? How can life go on? How can anything approach something approximating “normal?”
Beloved explores these questions. And faces harsh realities. Being black in America will never afford the right of equality and the privilege of agency. Never.
My favorite quote is from a scene that Paul D describes while a slave at Sweet Home. He describes to Sethe what it was like to have his eyes opened by Schoolteacher, who taught everyone on the plantation until Mister broke up the lessons. Mister gets to be Mister no matter what, because he’s white. “Schoolteacher changed me. I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub.” Paul D realizes now his value was less than the chicken who was about to become dinner. Schoolteacher exposed him to that understanding, which both binds Paul D tighter and frees him.
Cleveland in 1863 just as well be Ferguson 2014 or Philadelphia 2018. Anyone who thinks this is not the way of the world hasn’t been paying attention.
Beloved is complex. And I join the chorus which insists this is a book which should be read by everyone. Repeatedly.
See my list of books which help me understand being black in America.
[The space race] was always a race, but one in which the United States assumed it had a natural advantage. The Soviet Union could not produce a decent automobile; how could it possibly hope to best the United States in rocket science? (p. 31)
Since finishing Sharon Weinberger’s superbly researched book, The Imagineers of War, I find myself coming up short in how to describe it, much less review it. When talking to friends about it, all I can say is, “Those people are crazy!”
ARPA was founded in 1958 with a mission of creating “the unimagined weapons of the future.” Originally meant to beat the Soviets into space, ARPA had an unlimited budget, prestige in the Pentagon, and became a magnet for every wacky idea to come along.
The space race went to NASA, formed a year later, and weaponry became DARPA’s focus. Nearly anyone with an idea could get through the doors to make a pitch.
One of my favorites is Ronald Reagan’s version of Star Wars, a network of missiles in space meant to stop incoming bombs. Only, Reagan was never supposed to hear about it or take it seriously. To say Star Wars was flawed in concept would be an understatement of massive proportions. A lot of DARPA’s ideas made me wince and wonder how anyone thought that was a good idea.
Another interesting one was making a sort of mechanical elephant tall enough to carry supplies and personnel through the Vietnamese jungles. It never got off the drawing boards. That it got on the drawing boards leaves me in awe.
And then there are the little details that give me an unfair advantage on trivia nights. That is, if trivia nights focused on weird historic stories. In this case, it’s the story of how Agent Orange, the defoliant used to burn the jungles – and everything else – in Vietnam down. The dangerous effects of this herbicide reverberate even now, over 50 years since its use was implemented.
The men at DARPA were so bent on stopping Communism in its tracks and making it easier for US troops to fight, they lost sight of the costs in terms of civilians in surrounding villages, and their food supplies. A variety of chemical experiments were made all code-named Agent [some color]. They worked their way through the alphabet until Agent Orange proved to be the one that worked.
There were the experiments with psychic abilities and ways to weaponize them. I couldn’t help thinking of the 2009 George Clooney movie, Men Who Stare at Goats.
Outlandish ideas aside, this is the agency that gave us drones and the Internet. But Imagineers of War is more than a recitation of outlandish ideas, it delves into the politics of various administrations, the Pentagon, NASA, the armed forces and this not so little mysterious agency doing things no one, not even DARPA, completely understood.
The men and, much later, women of DARPA have a vague mission. To think up and develop weapons of the future to find the enemy and kill it. It’s easy to understand the inter-agency contests that have arisen since the very beginning.
Weinberger puts this all into context. The outlandish ideas, the political infighting, the successes and failures, set against the backdrop of impending disaster, imagined and otherwise. She sets the context of the times with care. From the Space Race to the Cold War to Vietnam and beyond, Sharon Weinberger tells us why DARPA was created and why even the most outlandish ideas were taken seriously.
Yes, these people were crazy. But they’re the ones charged with visualizing how to keep us safe from a world that’s crazy. They may be crackpots, but they’re our crackpots doing their best to imagine a crazy future.