Review: Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am feeling readerly lazy but I have been wanting to read this for a while and so I begin it today. I anticipate that it will be challenging and that I’ll have to read it at the table with paper and pen, and not on the couch with pillow and cat. But Toni Morrison says (right on the cover) that it is required reading. So be it.

What follow are some notes I took while reading, not a review.

America’s heresies – torture, theft, enslavement. The failure of democracy is the way we define who gets to be a “person” in government for & by the people, and what happens to those who are pushed outside that definition.

Race stems from racism.
Being “white” is a false construct created to give legitimacy to hierarchy.

Our national self identity and mythology rest on exceptionalism, nobility – and yet it is based on slavery and subjugation so the basis is false.

Coates asks: How do I live free in this black body? A letter from father to son – How to be a black man in America at a time when black men and women can be killed by police over so little and in which police are being acquitted of these killings. As parents, we want to tell our kids it will be all right; we want to keep them safe, we want to be able to teach them the rules for good living in society. But in a world in which otherwise decent people do not even believe that black citizens are in danger, parents are afraid.

Tells of growing up in Baltimore, fear, everyone having lost someone to jail or drugs or violence.

“The streets transform every ordinary day into a series of trick questions and every incorrect answer risks a beat down, a shooting, or a pregnancy.” (p.22)

Talks of survival, keeping the body safe, knowing what blocks to avoid and who would back you in a fight consuming one-third of his brain, and school never rewarding his curiosity, only his compliance.

Even with parents involved with the black panthers, educated and working for a major university, he had these experiences.

He talks about being shown non-violent protest (history of civil rights movement in America) and how it didn’t seem right when, every day, his body, his person, faced violence and he needed to become skilled at facing that in order to live.

Distilling the essence of parenting: “My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own.” (p.29)

“Sometimes [white power] is direct (lynching), and sometimes it is insidious (redlining). But however it appears, the power of domination and exclusion is central to the belief in being white, and without it,”white people” would cease to exist for want of reasons.” (p.42)

My people were not white in my grandparents’ generation. They were vermin in Europe and an unwanted burden coming to America. In my parents’ generation we became white but poor. Acceptable in the Bronx but the air force men in South Carolina still demanded to see my father’s horns. We’re white now, but along with the privilege comes an invisibility, which means that otherwise kind people can say the rudest, most ignorant things and not know that they are hurtful (to me) (unless I choose to tell them).

“It began to strike me that the point of my education was a kind of discomfort, was the process that would not award me my own special Dream but would break all the dreams . . .” (p.52)

“It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.” (p.103)

“And I saw that what divided me from the world was not anything intrinsic to us but the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named us matters more than anything we could actually do.” (p.120)

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Review: Gold Fame Citrus

Gold Fame Citrus
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Luz and Ray are holdouts on the west coast. The drought has come, the sand’s encroached, and the time for government-assisted evacuation east (where, presumably, there’s water and food), has passed. Now, all who are left are outlaws and those lacking the momentum to leave when they could. Luz and Ray head up into the hills to live on the leftovers of the rich and famous who have abandoned their homes.

Luz, daughter of an evangelical preacher who proclaimed about sulfurous devils up your anus, was also co-opted as a child to be the face of the coming environmental doom. All her life, she’s been photographed this way and that, her appearance constantly criticized. As a teenager, she became a fashion model and, in her early twenties, found it necessary to say ’17’ in order to get work. By the time the rivers are no more, Luz has no sense of her own volition or worth.

It’s this lack of direction and history of being and doing what others say she must that shape Luz’ part of this story. She’s willing to go along with Ray’s assessment of her as a beautiful ‘babygirl’ who needs protecting and directing – until they meet Ig, a toddler in need of better guardians.

Not sure what to say about this one. It is riveting. And it’s post-apocalyptic fantasy with an anthropological bent. However . . .

Watkins is basically conveying that we are all cowards and liars, full of selfish violence, and that the extreme environmental degradation coming our way (either as a natural result of our actions or politically contrived) will only make us more obviously so. Not a genuine or noble creature in the bunch.

Watkins hints at government conspiracies, laxity in scientific research, an Orwellian police state, delusional and manipulative criminals, but fails to flesh out and solid reality. Some of that is okay, but the reader never gets to know what’s in the foggy minds of dehydrated wanderers and what is actually happening. And that ending! Where the heck did that come from? It does not fit with the rest of the book.

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Review: Travels with Cheryl: A Memoir of Cross-Country Bicycle Riding

Travels with Cheryl: A Memoir of Cross-Country Bicycle Riding
Travels with Cheryl: A Memoir of Cross-Country Bicycle Riding by Jan Atamian
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Utterly charming. Two sisters take off on a cross-country bicycle ride in the days before cellphones, facebook, and blogging. They endure rain and cold and hills and trucks with good humor and an appreciation for all the kindnesses they encounter.

I liked them and I completely enjoyed the story and their sense of adventure.

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Review: Katherine Carlyle

Katherine Carlyle
Katherine Carlyle by Rupert Thomson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Katherine Carlyle tells the story of a young woman still struggling with her mother’s death 7 years before. Her unusual beginnings, that of an IVF baby whose initial cells sat dormant for 8 years before implantation and emergence as a person, magnify her sense of abandonment by her father, an international journalist whose work, as well as his inability to deal with his own loss, keeps them estranged.

Kit sets out on journey, allowing coincidence and chance encounters guide her trajectory. Going on her gut, she travels from Rome to Berlin and beyond, always encountering older men who want to father or bed or befriend her. Her own desires are unclear to her. On the one hand, she is in control, making contact and leaving when she wishes. On the other, she is drifting, allowing the people she meets to ‘do’ to her. Eventually, she brings herself to the far north and, spurred by a violent encounter, has an epiphany.

So, this book. The actual writing – the sentences, the paragraphs – is beautiful. I liked the beginning. Kit is beautiful, cool, sophisticated. She’s confident enough to skip college in pursuit of something more meaningful to her. As the story goes on, however, she began to appear to me more mentally imbalanced. Something is off kilter in how she views herself and her place in the world. With each change of name, transfer of locale, disposed-of phone, she became more a spoiled little rich girl, with scanty care for anyone else’s feelings, least of all her father’s. The story became, for me, a child’s petulant game of ‘Daddy, come find me and prove that you love me.’

And, for G-d’s sake, with a testimonial from Philip Pullman and a journey to Svalbard – Svalbard! – How is it possible that there are no armored bears? I kept hoping for a chance encounter with Iorek Byrnisson and for the adventure to begin.

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Review: Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts--Becoming the Person You Want to Be
Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be by Marshall Goldsmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really interesting and useful. Written in an engaging and easy style – Goldsmith asks the reader to consider who and how he or she wants to be in the world, and shares the strategies he has used with corporate clients to help them reach their goals. (First, how amazing would it be to work for a company that was willing to pay someone to help you with this?)

Things I want to remember:

Did you do your best to be happy?
Did you do your best to find meaning?
Did you do your best to build positive relationships with people?
Did you do your best to be fully engaged?

Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?
Did I do my best to find meaning today?
Did I do my best to be happy today?
Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

Also, to remember: All those petty annoyances – the rude customer, the stonewalling service rep on the phone, the driver that cuts you off on the highway – none of them are even thinking about you. They’re unaware of you, don’t care about you, and didn’t set out that day to bug you. Getting upset with them doesn’t help you. Find a way to calm down and move on.

“Our mission in life should be to make a positive difference, not to prove how smart or right we are.”

“Every decision in the world is made by the person who has the power to make the decision. Make peace with that.”
Is this battle worth fighting?
(Fight the battles worth fighting; let the others go.)

The other really helpful suggestion Goldsmith has is to tell someone what you are working on and to schedule a daily, brief conversation with that person so that they can ask you the questions that pertain to the improvement you’re working towards. A daily check in to help keep this in your consciousness and in your effort.

I love mornings. Every day, I wake up with a renewed sense of what the day can be, what it might bring, and how it’s another chance. I think of this, attributed to Neil deGrasse Tyson:

For me, I am driven by two main philosophies:
know more today about the world than I knew yesterday
and lessen the suffering of others.
You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

I try this every day. Sometimes I succeed, more times I fail. But I’ll definitely be adding working on positive relationships and not fighting unnecessary battles (and not needing to prove how smart or right I am in every setting).

I would recommend this book to anyone who works in a team or with the public and is looking for a little coaching that does not contain creepy jargon or require you to sign on with anything cultish.

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