Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More Words Wednesday #2 (For Political Junkies & Sports Fans)

Two weeks ago, I introduced "More Words Wednesday," a Wednesday post where I highlight books that I've read and think someone out there will enjoy. I shared my last MWW with my little brother and he made a good point. "How can you recommend books for a general audience? You're good at recommending books for people you know, not just randoms." I take constructive criticism well, so instead of flying to Germany to remind him that I was his big sister and I could still beat him up, I conceded the point.

He's right. You won't like ALL the books I recommend. Nevertheless, I have a pretty diverse taste in literature so at least one of these Wednesdays should hit the spot for you. The whole point of a review is to give you an idea of whether it's worth your hard-earned dollars. (And if you make it to Borders soon, you can catch their Going Out of Business Sale! I bought a book today marked down 40%!)

Today, I have a fiction recommendation for the political junkie and a non-fiction rec for the true sports fans:

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. In 2004, just like the majority of Americans, I voted for John Kerry. As we all know, he didn't win and the Bush family continued to be our First Family. I'm not a big fan of George W, but his wife Laura wasn't so bad. American Wife is technically fiction, but it is based very loosely on Laura Bush's life. I know... it doesn't sound super interesting does it? But I PROMISE it is. For instance, did you know that as a teenager, Laura (and the fictional character, Alice) hit her high school friend in a bad car accident and killed him? (Not on purpose of course). Anyway, the story is pretty juicy and has a dramatic climax towards the end. No more spoilers; read it for yourself. Curtis Sittenfeld never fails.

Forty Million Dollar Slaves by William C. Rhoden. The title of this book is provocative and -to many- ludicrous. How dare you compare slavery in the 1800's to the career of an athlete paid millions of dollars for their talent?! Well, I'd explain it for you, but Mr. Rhoden did a much better job. His works offers history and current examples of the trials of the professional athlete and a whole lot of context for his premise. For example, did you know that the first winner of the Kentucky Derby was a Black man? In fact, black horse jockeys were so successful that eventually exclusive jockey associations and clubs were created to exclude them and prevent them from monopolizing the winners' circle at derbies. One quote from the book is the following:
How tough is it to buy an inner-city kid? Buy him some shoes, take him to dinner, and get him some nice clothes, maybe a car. You become his best friend, and he gets hooked like a junkie,” Rudy Washington said. Then you control the product. The secret is controlling the produce early It’s just like slavery. Modern-day slavery is what it is.

Check it out. Even if you don't agree with it, I promise you'll learn something!

There you have it! MWW, Edition #2. Here's to more drama, more discussion, and more words this Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More Words Wednesday

Everybody has their thing. Some people are into Gossip Girl, some folks are into cool gadgets, some folks are into women with big afros... but me? I'm a bibliophile. Which simply means, I love books.

From The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to The Alchemist to Freakonomics, I just can't get enough. I probably wear glasses today because of all the nights I spent with a flashlight under my duvet as a child, finishing the latest Babysitter's Club or Goosebumps addition. But here's the thing; the only thing I like even more than enjoying a good book is helping others to discover books that they like. I don't mean this is in a Laura Bush Campaign for Literacy type way, I just mean that I am of the belief that everyone has the potential to enjoy reading, provided they find something that really intrigues them.

I have a great track record for suggesting books to folks, but as Lavar Burton would say, don't take my word for it. Ask my friends (like her, her, and especially him).
How is all this relevant to you? Because I've decided that every Wednesday is "More Words Wednesday." So every Wednesday I'm going to recommend two books for you to check out, typically one non-fiction and one fiction. (One cool way to remember the difference Fiction - Fake, Non Fiction - Not Fake.) Get excited!!! Hopefully the choices each Wednesday will inspire people who typically don't read to do so and provide options for regular readers' next choice!

Maynard & Jennica by Rudolph Delson. Several times as I read this book, I made that sound you make when you're either crying really hard or laughing really hard. You know... that dry heave silent gasp followed by loud, raucous laughter. It reads kind of like a romantic comedy, except not cheesy and this book is fair game for guys and girls (I mean, hello; it was written by a dude!). It tells the story of how two people meet, but instead of telling the story in the traditional chronological way, it tells the story through the perspective of various folks (my favorite is the would-be vandals on a subway train they both happen to be on.) As I was reading it, I literally felt like I was watching it in a movie theater. Of course, that also made me a little sad, because I was reading it alone and I envisioned myself in the theater alone as other couples laughed around me. But that's neither here nor there. Read the book!

Malcolm X: The Reinvention of a Life by Manning Marable. Most people are at least passively familiar with Malcolm's X Autobiography as told to Alex Haley. Time Magazine listed it in their Top 10 Most influential biographies of the century. Also, it seems that it was the primary source in the Spike Lee film on X. However, Marable's book takes Malcolm's story a step further. This hefty book provides any history buff or just curious observer of American politics and religion with a more comprehensive look at Malcolm's life. Through his autobiography, much of Malcolm's experiences and life are presented in one dimensional fashion. Marable's book however gives you more of an idea on why X was who he was and dares to show you the human side of X. I can't say too much more without this becoming a spoiler, but I have to say... if you're looking for a challenge, an opportunity to learn, and an informative but fascinating story, this is your best bet. A friend of mine and I are currently reading this story and we now make references to it almost daily. It's just that compelling!

If any of you choose to read the books above, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below (but no spoilers please!)

Here's to more learning, more laughter, and more words this Wednesday.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Birth of a Nation

Yesterday afternoon (July 3rd) I attended a birthday party. There were several friends in attendance, clad in red, white and blue, and a table was heaped with delicious food. Instead of attempting to buy hundreds of candles, the party planner decided to purchase a “2” a “3” and a”5” in honor of the birthday girl’s special day.

As the attendees sang Happy Birthday to America (not the Stevie version, I regretfully inform you), they followed up by chanting USA, and dug into a steaming hot apple pie.  I watched with amusement and a bit of melancholy envy because I’ve known the birthday girl, America, my entire life but oddly enough I’ve never celebrated her birthday with such fervor.

Let me be clear. I am an American and very proud of it. I have always recognized the 4th of July with some type of celebration whether it be fireworks or a cookout; who can really complain about a holiday that is a guaranteed day off?

Unfortunately, when I reflect on our “Independence Day” from Britain, the Liberty Bell seems to ring a little off key for me. Yes, it is true that on or around July 4, 1776, the United States did move to declare her independence from Great Britain. But how did our “independence” from Britain change the lives of Black Americans? Was their freedom in any way secured? Did they toss aside the chains of slavery and march forward to citizenship? We all know the answer to the preceding questions are “not really”; “no”; and “no” respectively.

The second sentence of the Declaration of Independence states “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

We’ve heard this line so many times that it almost seems rote. But read them again. You’d think it was a line from an abolitionist’s speech. When I hear “all men are endowed with the right to liberty,” my bosom doesn’t swell with pride in my country’s Founding Fathers. I’m filled with disbelief, disgust and pain. How could you pen those words and continue to support a system of slavery? How could Congress approve that declaration and not also approve the end of horrible crimes to humanity?

I know what some of you are thinking:

  1. Slavery is over; get over it already. I’m not going to get into a long drawn out dissertation about how the descendants of slaves and slave owners continue to reap burdens and benefits respectively, because that makes people defensive. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the day we are expected to look back on with moist eyes makes my wrists ache with the inherited memory of slavery.

  1. Why can’t you feel good about celebrating your own country’s birthday? Yes, America was born that day. Unfortunately, the America born that day was not created with my interests in mind. No kind thought or consideration was made about me and my family’s wish to have life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. My ancestors and their children were considered less than men, not even actual people. What else can you derive from the statement that “all men are created equal” when people of African decent are not considered a part of this group?

  1. Blacks weren’t the only group without rights. Only white men that owned land were even able to vote. Why take it so personal? You don’t see white women complaining. Well this criticism is easy to deflect. Lots of other groups were (and continue to be) marginalized. But Blacks and Native Americans -those who didn’t die of disease or run off- didn’t even have the right to life sans shackles. Marginalization >>> shackles.

I’m going to say it again because I’m sure many of you don’t believe me. I’m proud to be an American. I’m glad we’re not a group of colonies. I love living here and wouldn’t want to live any place else. Everyone, self included, reaps the benefits of being free of rule from the British. However, a holiday entitled Independence Day is quite misleading, all things considered. Independence was selective; freedom in the US from the Brits, slavery to the US for others. The so-called American dream was recognized for a good chunk of Americans that day in Philadelphia. A celebration is indeed in order. But a good deal of reflection on how America can ensure that the ideals represented in that Declaration are represented in our country today is much more productive, and in my opinion, more patriotic.

Happy Fourth. Enjoy the birth of a nation. Just don’t call it Independence Day.