27 November 2007

22. The Watsons go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

A great book about a very close family who lives in Flint Michigan. Because the oldest son, Byron, is becoming a juvenile delinquent the family decides he should live with the grandmother down in Alabama. So, off they go on a roadtrip.

About 9/10 of the book is dedicated to character development and establishing the close knit ties between the parents and the kids. The oldest brother constantly picks on our narrator, ten-year-old Kenny. And there is a little sister Joetta.

The voice of the main character and narrator is hilarious. Curtis does a great job getting inside the head of Kenny.

The family drives to Alabama and gets there just in time for the church bombing that killed four little girls and blinded two others. For such a climactic moment there is very little politicking and lecturing in the book. Kenny has a hard time with the bombing and the causes and consequences of the bombing, and his bully brother Byron helps him work through it.

It was a very quick read. This book won honors (I guess that means not-first place) in both the Newberry Awards and the Coretta Scott King awards. I think it would be a great companion to the recent Presidential Medal of Freedom Award winning To Kill a Mockingbird.

21 November 2007

21. Fallen Angels by W. D. Myers

I also read this for a class, and quite enjoyed it. It's classified as Young Adult literature (one of the things we are discussing is just what YA lit really is), but has some heavy ideas, some very grown up scenes in it, and clocks in at about 300 pages.

The story is about a recent HS graduate who enlists and is sent off to Viet Nam.

With fewer details about the intricacies of basic training, breaking down and cleaning one's rifle, and the irony of war (sent to help but actually harming) it's only just more than your typical VN war book/story, and fits neatly in the genre. What is most compelling to me is Richie's justification for joining: his family needed the money. With no dad and a little brother still in high school, Richie was the bread winner as soon as he graduated from high school.

I think this is important, especially now, as Bush's haphazard, aimless foreign policy puts young men and women in danger who were probably in the same position as Richie - no money for college, no decent job prospects, and few opportunities for upward mobility or economic independence.

20. Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison

Read this powerful little book for a Multi-Cultural Education class.

In it Morrison attacks the representation and lack of representation of black Americans in American Lit. She discusses the demeaning and patronizing portrayal of blacks (think Huck Finn, especially the last third of the book), and the complete absence of effects of black Americans in the books. She asks how, since every single political decision made since the drafting of the Declaration of Independence has been about, or affected by, the presence of slaves, freed slaves, or the legacy of slavery, how can black characters, black people, black-ness not be prolific in literature. She provides some examples from Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, and gives some praise to Melville.

05 November 2007

William Stafford

"I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don't have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along."

And a poem:

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.