Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Top Ten Books I Wish People in Baltimore (and Everywhere) Were Reading Instead

So, I was going to post the regular Top Ten Tuesday, but tonight, my hometown is on the news all over the nation. I hear all kinds of reports from all kinds of angles--including multiple people who are in the city right now. What happened, and has been happening, in our city and other places, is shameful. People do not deserve to be mistreated because of the color of their skin---or anything else. Protesting is a natural reaction. Rioting, unfortunately, is too. Here's what I wish people were doing instead of rioting AND instead of complaining about rioters--trying to find a way to stop and listen. And sometimes, there's no better way to do that than to read.

1. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

It's a kids' book, but hear me out. I think I first began to understand the depth of inequality while reading this book and its sequels. Cassie Logan grows up on her family's land in the 1930s, and begins to realize the racism directed at her and her family.

2. White Lilacs by Carolyn Meyer

Also aimed at younger readers, but skewed a little older than Thunder, White Lilacs is about Rosa Lee Jefferson, who learns her Texas town will be razed because the white town nearby wants their land. I also learned about racism from this book, but mostly I just remember loving the book and the characters.

3. Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks and Jim Haskins

Such a strong story from such a strong woman. I remember reading this and being totally blown over that, no, Rosa Parks' decision was no accident, she did what she did fully aware of the consequences.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Not my favorite, it's true, but I think Mockingbird unfortunately still has a lot to say about the injustice of our legal systems.

5. Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose

We are all the characters in this play sometimes. We get worked up, or apathetic, or determined, and we think we see things one way, and then realize the opposite. And that's why we should be very, very careful...

6. The Crucible by Arthur Miller

And sometimes we all go on witch hunts, whether it's what we believe or because we think we can get something out of it and not care whose lives were ruined.

7. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Can't leave off Maya Angelou during National Poetry Month. Go read all her poems, now. Race is a big part of Angelou's identity and culture, but I think this also provides insight into what it means to grow up poor.

8. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

This is set in the future rather than the past, but it's eerily familiar. Lauren Olamina grows up in a compound surrounded by lawlessness. Her world has fallen apart, and she finds the strength to go on.

9. Every Boy Should Have a Man by Preston L. Allen

This is a more modern allegory that posits a society where giants keep humans as pets. It has repercussions for animal rights, environmental rights, and yes, civil rights.

10. Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks

Because it's not just about women, it's about people and the elimination of hierarchy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Top Ten All-Time Favorite Authors

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!

As the Broke and Bookish bloggers note, it's cruel to restrict only to ten. But I'll do my best.

1. J.R.R. Tolkien

The Man and His Pipeweed

2. Louisa May Alcott

The Grown-Up Authoress

3. Madeleine L'Engle

She Wrote for Children When It Was Too Hard for Adults

4. L.M. Montgomery

Queen of Italics

5. Leo Tolstoy

The Man Who Gazes into Your Soul

6. Jane Austen

The Woman and Her Bit of Ivory

7. William Shakespeare

The Man and His Pen

8. Tanuja Desai Hidier

The Woman With the Voice

9. Junot Diaz

The Man with the Linguistic Backseat Driver

10. Ann Brashares

The Woman Who Believes in Sisterhood (Or Used To...)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Book Review: The Republic of Imagination

16. The Republic of Imagination by Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi, author of the classic Reading Lolita in Tehran, turns her attention to her adopted country's relationship with literature. In Reading Lolita, Nafisi and her students escape the oppression of their circumstances through defiantly reading American literature. In Imagination, she belies the claim that because Americans have not experienced oppression, we do not appreciate our own literature. She defends the importance of literature, of the realm of thought that she dubs "the Republic of Imagination," which, she insists, is the true locus of our ability to innovate and to remain free.

What is characteristic of both Nafisi's memoirs-in-books, and what sets them apart from the many books that have aped the concept since Reading Lolita came out in 2003, is that while she is not afraid to relate her personal reactions to books, she also provides analytical close readings that bring readers face-to-face with the text. Too many of these other memoirs focus on the personal over the academic, but Nafisi manages to do both in a way that neither looks down on nor bores the popular reader.

Imagination does not quite scale the heights of Reading Lolita, perhaps because Americans are not as interested in looking inward as looking out, or perhaps because it does not have quite the arresting imagery of the earlier book's central metaphor. That said, it is quite interesting to see America from an immigrant's perspective, especially such a keen observer as Nafisi, who writes:

All writers and poets are strangers, or pariahs, as Hannah Arendt chose to call them. They look at the world through the eyes of the outsider, but only American writers turn this attribute into a national characteristic.

Ours is a literature of outcasts, as Nafisi captures in her first of three books she discusses: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In my own estimation, Huck Finn is the essential American novel, and Nafisi gets that Huck's constant suspicion and need for independence are characteristic not only of American literature, but of the American ethos. Indeed, it's unclear which created the other. So, it's no wonder that in our constant outward search (orgiastic rowing into the past notwithstanding), we find it easier to read about others than about ourselves.

The heart of Nafisi's book is the section on Babbitt, which I confess I have not read, though it's now on my list. Here, Nafisi finds her best comparison for the state of American education and intellectualism today. Babbitt is Huck's antithesis, and yet through his conformist ways, we see what we do not want to become. The sections on McCullers and Baldwin emphasize the theme of the lonely, independent American spirit.

Nafisi believes that literature is, by its nature, revolutionary, that this republic of imagination is the last refuge of independent selfhood. Our ability to remain independent is a direct result of our ability to imagine. We cannot solve our problems if we cannot first imagine the solutions; science and technology, literature and poetry, are inextricably linked. Nafisi quotes Robert Wilson, founder of Fermilab:

It has nothing to do directly with defending our country, except to make it worth defending.

Recommended to all who loved Reading Lolita, to defenders of literature and education, and to lovers of learning of all kinds.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Top Ten Inspiring Quotes from Books

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!

1. "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

2."Like and equal are not the same thing at all!" -Meg Murry

3. "It was no passive homogenous creature, identity, but rather diversity, a thrashing, grinding, and all out dirty dancing together."-Dimple Lala

4. "He raised his wings and spread them wide before folding them again. 'There,' he said, 'I have just brushed ten million other worlds, and they knew nothing of it.'" -Serafina Pekkala's daemon

5."People who hate to make choices, to settle on one thing or another, are attracted to travel." -Elisabeth Eaves

6. "Whoever we were--and it was not really important what religion we belonged to, whether we wished to wear the veil or not, whether we wished to observe religious norms or not--we had become the figment of someone else's dreams."
-Azar Nafisi

7 "Imaginative knowledge is pragmatic: it helps shape our attitude to the world and our place in it and influences our capacity to make decisions."
-Azar Nafisi

8. "She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older--the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning." -Jane Austen

9. "No one holds his heart in his hand and restrains or releases it by closing or opening his hand at will."
-Catherine the Great

10. "The mind is its own place, and in it self/Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n." -Satan