Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer reading

My latest readings, by request:

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout -- loved this book. A collection of short stories that add up to a portrait of a crusty, older, many-generation Maine woman. The writing is sparse and evocative and the character is strong, imperfect, and very lovable on some level. Many of the stories are about the marriages and relationships of older people, people in their 60s, say, and it's wonderful to hear that perspective for once.

Slavery By Another Name by Douglas Blackmon -- this is an intense, powerful, painful book. A thoroughly researched history of what post-Civil War slavery in the South. Ninety percent of blacks lived in the South after the war and for 80 years whites systematically arrested, convicted, and enslaved thousands of them, mostly men, but also women and children. The call would go out from a large plantation or coal mine or steel mill for 20 more men, and sheriffs and justices of the peace would routinely round up black people doing nothing more than walking down the street. The fines and court fees would be inflated and the man would be sent into servitude for a year or more to work off his debt. Once there they would find some reason to fine him again and he would get another year or two. Needless to say the conditions were appalling, with sickness, famine, and torture rampant.

This practice began in earnest after Reconstruction failed, and didn't end until a few days after Pearl Harbor, when the Federal government decided it wouldn't look good to claim to be fighting for freedom and have hundreds of thousands of blacks enslaved. Plus they needed black men to fight. Blackmon says the Jim Crow era should be renamed the Age of Neoslavery. There's a long history to the black distrust of police and authorities, with very good reason.

Persepolis I & II by Marjane Satrapi -- Lovely autobiographical graphic novels about the coming of age of a young Iranian woman. Gives a very sympathetic picture of the strong intellectual community in Iran, the pre-revolution and post-revolution world, and I started to get a sense of what it must be like to live under such a strict regime. I don't know how I would act, under such conditions. The art work is simple and extraordinary.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
-- Have you reread this lately? It's still a classic.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway -- I had read this since the 12th grade and I wanted to see if I still loved it. I still love it. My bookgroup did not, however, and we had a great discussion. The writing is extraordinary, and the portrait of a time and place and some miserable post-War ex-pats hanging around Paris and Spain.

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