Tag Archives: nonfiction

Not Just a Book, The New Jim Crow is a Call for Real Action and a Movement

newjimcrowThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander

audiobook read by Karen Chilton

It took me a long while to finish listening to this.  My heart would shrink a little when the thought surfaced that it’s time to listen to the next chapter or section.  Why would I want to torture myself knowing more aspects of how UNJUST the United States Criminal Justice System has been to our black fellow citizens — especially black men, especially black young men?  Why would I want to hear more stories that confirm how color-blindness, racial indifference, and lack of information of myself and millions of kind-hearted Americans contributed more to the creation of a lower racial “caste” in our society (convicted felons for minor or nonviolent drug offenses) than overt racists.  Why would I want to feel powerless when informed of the institutionalized sanction so our law enforcers may commit atrocious acts (seizing and keeping of properties of those who might or might not have committed a crime, for example and the incentives to use military grade weapons and tactics against unarmed individuals.)

But I kept at it.  And kept learning.  And kept finding more supporting evidences from the chatters and opinions in social media and other information sources.  And kept talking to whomever would listen.  Until the book was done.

And I promptly bought the paperback copy of the book so I can refer back to it whenever I need.

The book was published in 2010.  And in 2015, we read about president Obama’s bipartisan-sanctioned plans for Justice Reform and listen to reasons behind his granting clemency to unjustly sentenced minor drug offenders.  It will be great to see new policies that address the long-time injustice in the Criminal Justice system.

Watch Obama’s speech at the 2015 NAACP Annual Convention.

A collection of videos about this topic can be found on CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/14/politics/obama-naacp-speech-philadelphia-justice-reform/


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Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us

Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us
Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us by Claude M. Steele

Although so much of the book seems like Common Sense to me, it’s always great to be reminded of our own biases and strategies that can alleviate tension and reduce misunderstanding and thus foster a positive learning environment for our students. I felt my time worth spent on this volume.

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With A Mighty Hand: The Story in the Torah

withamightyhandadapted and retold by Amy Ehrlich
illustrated by Daniel Nevins

Ehrlich’s talent as a storyteller is evident in the book.  She picked and chose powerful details.  She then tailored them for young readers with simple and easily understandable words and sentences.  The immediacy is almost shocking.  Instead of the tales feeling distanced by archaic language or complex sentence structures as often found in the translated versions of the Bible (or Torah), a young reader can digest these stories quickly and see the pictures clearly (also with the help of the colorful paintings.)

I think that’s why I had such conflicting reactions to this gorgeously illustrated religious text.  On the one hand, I really admire Ehrlich’s storytelling and distilling skills.  On the other hand, all these immediacies bring to sharp relief the brutal and the morally questionable events and behaviors in these stories.  Being a non-believer of any religion myself, it was really hard for me to understand how anyone could “fall for” this inconsistent, arrogant, vengeful, deceptive, conspiring, and power-hungry GOD.  Some of the lessons that I got from the book are

  • Since GOD is so fickle, but so all powerful, you’d better always do as told.
  • One’s relationship with GOD is and should be completely based on Fear.
  • All human inter-actions are based on Jealousy and sometimes bad deeds are richly rewarded.
  • Women are to be neglected and are of no or little importance except in bearing sons for the chosen people.
  • The chosen ones should endeavor in eliminating the non-believers and those who believe in other Gods.

So, I am left with a huge question: Why, in the year 2013, we need such a retelling of these brutal and morally antiquated tales to children which do not contain in the text itself explanatory notes or questions that encourage discussions for the family?  Especially since this is a trade book and conceivably could be read and shared with people who are not of the Jewish faith.   (There are indeed back matters with notes and an introduction but I really would have liked to see a more philosophical approach to these tales than the current shape it is in.)

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Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

farfromthetreeby Andrew Solomon, read by the author

This book took me 40 days to listen — the audio book version is about 42 hours long.

There were days that I just couldn’t get myself back to listen to the next segment because the emotional exhaustion experienced in a previous segment prevented me from delving back into the book — mostly because some of the personal stories that Solomon reported are incredibly intense and affecting.

My reaction toward the book changed several times through this long journey: at first, I was just in awe and was glad that I got to learn something about situations that I don’t have personal experiences with — that I learned about Deaf Culture and the polarized opinions on whether deafness should be cured; about families with Little People and the historical and medical aspects of Dwarfism — and the perils and blisses of “cures” such as limp lengthening procedures; about children and adults with Down Syndroms, their defeat and success and what researchers are still finding and what life is like for so many of them…

Then, my relationship with the book changed slightly, listening to the chapters on DS, Autism, Schizophrenia, and Disability.  Even though the conditions described differ from chapter to chapter, some recurring themes emerge. Mainly we are shown (and told) by Solomon repeatedly that just because two people or two families have the same “problem” does not mean that they have the same views and reactions on the situation.  Indeed, it’s proven over and over and over (yes, there are a lot of repeating patterns in the book, both in the reporting and the reflecting from the author, although there were always new expressions to say the same thing) that each and every situation is inherently complex: there are the matters of the illness (condition,) the matters of the economics, the matters of the societal views, and definitely matters of the heart: the heart of the parents and the children.  I complained a bit then about how each chapter seems to repeat itself… and was reminded that perhaps very few readers of this tome would have gone through the book the same manner I did.  The way Solomon put together the book allows for essential information and themes to not be lost even if a reader only reads one or two chapters.

I settled down then and became more open minded to the worlds of Prodigies, Rape victims and their children, Criminals and their parents, and Transgender people.  I don’t know whether these chapters were better put together or whether my mind was more willing to appreciate them. Nonetheless, I found myself constantly finding revelations and new information worth learning in these final segments.  They let me consider situations and hardships and joys that I NEVER contemplated.  Yes, I felt like I was made a slightly “better” person by sharing the author’s empathetic and compassionate views and by being more educated about situations that I didn’t really understand before.

The final chapter of Solomon’s personal story of fatherhood (3 families, 5 children, fathered by himself and his partner for others and for themselves) serves as a wonderful and hopeful conclusion to a heavy — in all senses — book.

Since the reports are so thorough and the stories so well told, there might be an illusion that after reading this book, one could feel quite an expert in the ins and outs of these various conditions and their ramifications.  I cautioned myself to not “just take Solomon’s words for it” since even though I found myself agreeing with him a LOT, I don’t really know enough about anything presented here (socio-economic, historical, societal, medical, ethical, etc.) to judge the book’s validity in its entirety.  Did I learn a WHOLE lot about all these conditions?  I sure did.  But to me, there is an even more important added value: Solomon’s book is a great reminder for me to pay attention to wide angles on many issues and to consider the multitude of outcomes that changing of one or few small factors could cause.

I am so glad that I got to experience this book this summer.  I hope some others do too!

There is a full website with rich content that one can explore, too: Here – http://www.farfromthetree.com/

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Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

malcolmxby Manning Marable
audio book: read by G. Valmont Thomas

I listened to this historically detailed and intimate personal portrait of Malcolm X over a month: while washing dishes and walking to and from subway stations.  I never read the autobiography which has been the prescribed text on school curriculum about Malcolm X, and only encountered him as a historical figure in other nonfiction books, mostly for children, about the Civil Rights Movement.  So it is that this is how I got to know the man and his many phases on the road to becoming the internationally influential personality.  I learned much about the Nation of Islam (NOI,) and much about the inter-plays between him and other leaders of the civil rights movement — especially Bayard Rustin, whose story has just begun to surface as another major thread of the Movement.

The book is full of painstakingly gathered details of Malcolm’s life — from his parents’ struggles before he was born, the family’s roles as Garveyites, Malcolm’s youthhood filled with brushes against the law and his inevitable imprisonment, his extreme attachment and final rebellion against the Nation of Islam and its doctrines, his many international trips to observe first hand the Orthodox Islam’s practices, and to his final days when he adopted Pan-Africanism and evolved into a much more open-minded commentator on social struggles: that the color of one’s skin does not necessarily dictate one’s political or social views and status.

I cannot but wonder, just as the biographer historian did in the epilogue, how more influential Malcolm would have been to the Movement if he had been given the chance to live beyond his 40th birthday…. (he was murdered just 3 months short of it.)  It’s with a heavy heart that I stopped the audio player…

Marable’s words brought Malcolm to life and actor Thomas’ skillful reading of the narrative did the text justice, or perhaps even enhanced it.  I really appreciated both for their art.

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What is Reading? To a 4th grader?

This past Tuesday, I surveyed what my 4th graders are currently reading as I do about once a month in Library Class, just to have a sense on some favorite titles and whether they are all engaging in the act of reading.  One boy looked mighty uncomfortable and almost embarrassed when it was his turn.  He squeaked a reply, almost inaudible, “I’m not reading anything.”  I said, “That’s all right.  Let’s find you something to read today.” He replied, “But I am spending a lot of time reading this National Geographics book on the greatest journeys of the world.”  I quickly assured him and the entire class that, “Reading a nonfiction IS READING,” and to never feel bad if you are not the kind of reader who reads only made-up STORIES.

But why, by age 8 or 9, children already have formed this strong belief that if they are not reading Fiction, they are NOT reading?

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In Cold Blood

In Cold Bloodby Truman Capote

Finally got a chance to read this. Excellent beyond belief. No wonder it is such a famous book. Capote is not only a great sentence crafter, he is also so skilled in putting together the whole picture bit by bit with just the right amount of tension as each chapter progresses and as each section of the book falls into place. There is the “cold blood” chilling-ness permeating the book, of course, but there is also so much that is entirely human about each person’s tale. We wonder about these murderers and what went wrong in their lives and in their brains and in their hearts. I feel both a deep sorrow and a real emotional detachment – two highly opposite sensations and yet they co-exist the entire time as I read the book. I’d credit the author for giving a most unusual reading experience.

View all my goodreads reviews

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