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Why #BlackLivesMatter

So I’ve been contemplating writing a blog about #blacklivesmatter for some time. I’ve been torn. On one hand, I’m white and I do not want my voice heard over any person of color’s. The whole point of BLM is that their voices, their experiences, aren’t being heard. They should be, need to be, heard. Their stories are what we should be listening to right now. But on the other hand, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” To not speak up about an injustice seen is to condone said injustice. So I refuse to be silent.

Here’s what I hope to accomplish with this post. First, explain why the #blacklivesmatter movement is needed. Second, attempt to answer a few criticisms of BLM that I’ve seen around. And third, hopefully illustrate why those who say #alllivesmatter or #bluelivesmatter are not helping, and why they are missing the point. Let’s get to it.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHntlGbjBak/?taken-by=jessiefox_

Image from @jessiefox_ on instagram.


Systematic racism exists. There is no way around it. It exists in our judicial system and in our employment. It exists consciously and subconsciously in many of us, from police, lawyers and judges to individual citizens throughout this country. It has existed since before the founding of our nation and has continuously been worked into our laws and customs and procedures. And most of us ignore this. Let me attempt to prove it exists. First, to do this, I am going to quote a few sections from an incredible article written for the New York Times last year titled “The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black.” If you have a chance, read the whole article. If not, here’s a few key points:

“Here in North Carolina’s third-largest city [Greensboro], officers pulled over African-American drivers for traffic violations at a rate far out of proportion with their share of the local driving population. They used their discretion to search black drivers or their cars more than twice as often as white motorists — even though they found drugs and weapons significantly more often when the driver was white.”

“National surveys show that blacks and whites use marijuana at virtually the same rate, but black residents here are charged with the sole offense of possession of minor amounts of marijuana five times as often as white residents are.”

“In the four states that track the results of consent searches, officers were more likely to conduct them when the driver was black, even though they consistently found drugs, guns or other contraband more often if the driver was white. The same pattern held true with probable-cause searches in Illinois and North Carolina, the two states that carefully record them.”

There’s also a damning graph in the article that’s based off the information of the four states that best track their traffic stops (Connecticut, Illinois, North Carolina, and Rhode Island). Across the 14 different agencies throughout the four states, every agency pulled black people over more often. The highest difference being the Chicago Police Department at 5.2 times more often, and the lowest being North Carolina State Highway Patrol at 1.5 times more often. The second graph compares the chances of black and white drivers that were searched carrying contraband. Out of the 14 different agencies, only the Rhode Island State Police found contraband on black drivers more often. Illinois State Police found contraband in equal amount and the other 12 found contraband on white drivers more often.

The rest of the article spends time talking about individual cases of black people being pulled over, arrested, beat up, tazed, and much more, for nothing more than the color of their skin. It’s worth reading.

Another glaringly obvious discriminatory practice in the United States is how the War on Drugs has been waged almost exclusively on black and brown citizens since its start in the early 1980s. I’ll try to get into some of the issues here, but if you’d like to really dissect mass incarceration, I’d recommend reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

In some of the statistics I’m about to list, it’s important to remember the demographic makeup of the USA. For our purposes: white Americans are 72.4% of the population (around 223.5 million) and black Americans are 12.6% of the population (around 39 million). When looking at drug use, black and white Americans use illicit drugs at almost exactly the same rate (6.6% of white Americans and 7.7% of black Americans). But when you look at actual numbers, it drastically changes the story of who’s using in America. With the above percentages and population numbers, we have 14.7 million white drug users and a little over 3 million black drug users.

With a disparity of over 11 million people in favor of white drug use, why the hell are black youth 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than whites!? Side note, that last article actually says “young African Americans are actually less likely to use drugs and less likely to develop substance use disorders, compared to whites, Native Americans, Hispanics and people of mixed race.”

Speaking of mass incarceration in general, 1 in 100 Americans are currently behind bars. This is a travesty of monumental consequences. This also directly creates more crime. When any of these men and women leave prison after fulfilling their punishment, they are barred from jobs, licenses, housing, and even voting in many states. They are officially a criminal, a second-class citizen, until the day they die. How do you think they are going to leave the life of crime if we don’t let them. If they can’t drive, can’t be employed, can’t vote, can’t find housing, what do you think they are going to do? The harsh measures enacted by the War on Drugs gives them few options other than resorting to measures that would lead back to prison.

And let’s break down the incarceration numbers a little more. Looking at citizens divided by gender and race, 1 in 106 of white men are behind bars while 1 in 15 (!!!!!) of black men over the age of 18 are behind bars. And with black men between the ages of 20 and 34 the ratio jumps to 1 in 9. Can you fathom that? I can’t. And this is with 11 million more white drug users than black drug users.

This huge number in incarcerated citizens has quadrupled since 1980. And this has been directly driven by the War on Drugs. As Human Rights Watch stated,

…violent crime rates have been relatively constant or declining over the past two decades. The exploding prison population has been propelled by public policy changes that have increased the use of prison sentences as well as the length of time served, e.g. through mandatory minimum sentencing, “three strikes” laws, and reductions in the availability of parole or early release.

Although these policies were championed as protecting the public from serious and violent offenders, they have instead yielded high rates of confinement of nonviolent offenders. Nearly three quarters of new admissions to state prison were convicted of nonviolent crimes….

Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national ‘war on drugs.’ The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980.

A few more statistics:

-A study conducted dealing with McCleskey v. Kemp court case found that in Georgia, prosecutors went for the death penalty in 70% of cases involving black defendants and white victims. When the defendant was white and the victim was black, prosecutors sought the death penalty only 19% of the time! Now, it’s obviously impossible to start comparing criminal cases because each and every one is unique, but determining that there’s a discriminatory choice made when the death penalty is sought is hard to argue against.

-African Americans, who are 13% of the population and 14% of drug users, are not only 37% of the people arrested for drugs but 56% of the people in state prisons for drug offenses. (Marc Mauer Congressional Testimony)

-African American juvenile youth are 16% of the population,  but they are 28% of juvenile arrests, 37% of the youth in juvenile jails and 58% of the youth sent to adult prisons. (2009 Criminal Justice Primer)

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that “[w]hite names receive 50 percent more callbacks for interviews. We also find that race affects the benefits of a better resume. For White names, a higher quality resume elicits 30 percent more callbacks whereas for African Americans, it elicits a far smaller increase.”

And really, I could go on forever with statistics. But I shouldn’t have to. Experiences cover the spectrum, but disturbing trends make themselves known. In light of recent events, listen to what the Dallas surgeon who cared for victims of the police shooting said. Or Republican Senator Tim Scott talking about being pulled over 7 times in a year. Or talk to any person of color in your life. Ask them about their experiences. Learn from them. Empathize with them.


Now for the criticisms:

I agree that racism is bad, but why do you have to block roads and highways?
This has always been a tactic used by non-violent protests. From Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. to #blacklivesmatter, if their protests aren’t disruptive, they aren’t listened to. They are forcing you to hear them because they’ve been ignored for too long. And you think being a little late getting home is worse than dealing with systematic and individual racism on a daily basis?

Non-violence? There’s been violence committed at BLM rallies.
You’re not wrong. Protesters have perpetuated violence. Police officers have perpetuated violence. But the acts of a few shouldn’t disqualify the movement of many. Abolitionist like John Brown led violent slave revolts, Black Panthers committed violent acts during the Civil Rights Era, and Micah Johnson killed 5 members of law enforcement in Dallas. That doesn’t mean we should not have abolished slavery, or that the Civil Rights Movement should have been canceled, or that #blacklivesmatter does not have legitimate complaints. Really, I think Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best:

…it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.

What about “black on black” crime. Why aren’t they protesting that?
First off, using that term is incredibly racist and unnecessary. Nobody wants crime. But to put it in such a racist frame is not helpful. Violent crime is usually committed by somebody you know or live nearby. So that means most white victims had white attackers and most black victims had black attackers.

And also, it’s just a talking point not based in fact. Most leaders of #BLM are leaders in their communities that are incredibly active in anti-crime and anti-drug organizations. But more importantly, those crimes are being handled by the judicial system. Someone commits a crime, you call the police, justice is serviced (albeit possibly discriminatorily). What #blacklivesmatter is protesting is police brutality. Police should be held up to a higher standard than violent criminals. We expect violent criminals to commit crimes and we expect justice to be served. Most of the time, it is. But we expect the police forces across our nation to serve and protect their communities, not shoot unarmed citizens. And that’s not always the case. Can we not hold police to a higher standard?

They are just exasperating race relations in America!
Pointing out racism isn’t making it worse. It’s the first step in righting the wrongs of institutional racism.


This finally brings us to the issues of using #alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter as a response.

Using #alllivesmatter is just a way to shut down the conversation that #blacklivesmatter is trying to start. Nobody disagrees with the idea that all lives matter. If you can’t realize that #blacklivesmatter is saying they matter “too,” not that “only” they matter, I don’t know what to tell you. They’re saying, whether you believe them or not, that they feel like black lives do not matter in our society. That they are disposable. And a lot of the numbers in the first half of this blog agree with them. Let me put it in as many ways as possible to clear up any confusion:

-Saying all lives matter is like a fire department spraying water on a house that isn’t on fire while another one burns down because all houses matter.

-It’s like neglecting to give somebody food at the dinner table, and then when they ask for it, saying all people deserve food.

-It’s like telling somebody wearing a breast cancer awareness pin that all cancers matter.

-It would be like one of Jesus’s disciples responding to “blessed are the poor” with “blessed is everybody.”

-“Save the Rainforest” doesn’t mean to forget about all the other trees.

-“Save the Dolphins” doesn’t mean to kill off all other sea life.

If you truly believed all lives matter, than you would have no issue with BLM fighting against police brutality. The ideas aren’t mutually exclusive. The issue is that most people using #alllivesmatter are doing it as a negative response to #BLM, to stop the conversation.

Now I only have two points to make about #bluelivesmatter. First, it’s usually the all lives matter people that use it. I find it odd that they think #blacklivesmatter means only black lives and nobody else, but #bluelivesmatter doesn’t mean the exact same thing. I don’t think you’re saying only cops matter. So why do you think they’re saying only black lives matter?

Secondly, being a cop is a difficult job that deserves respect. It can be dangerous, and I commend each and every person who chooses to go into that profession. But that’s all it is at the end of the day, a profession. When they aren’t in uniform, their lives aren’t at higher risk. If they decide the risk is too much, they can change jobs. People of color cannot change their skin color. They are born that way. It’s not changing.


If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading and I hope you’ll click on some of the above links to dive deeper into these issues. I don’t think I’ll change the world with a few words, but if even one person starts seeing things differently, starts to realize systematic racism exists, realizes #blacklivesmatter is an important movement, I’ve accomplished what I wanted to.

This blog post was written with the desperately needed proofreading and editing help of Josh Reed, Lacy Benoit, and Tara Holtzclaw. Thanks for everything!!
 
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Posted by on July 19, 2016 in Original Work, Politics, Quotes

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Sheltering Sky, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Ginger Man & The Magnificent Amberson

Here it is! The final 100 Greatest Novels post! Can you believe it? I can’t. These last four novels bring us to the final. I posted the blog introducing this idea almost 4 years ago. We completed the first novel, Ulysses, and posted the blog in August 2012. We finished the first 50 books with Tropic of Cancer, the blog being posted on April 2014. So that brings us to today with the last four books. Let’s get to it.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

ShelteringSkyThis novel shows that the idea of American tourist not knowing what the hell they’re doing in foreign countries isn’t new. The story follows an American couple from New York who travel to North Africa with a friend. The story starts off delving into the marital issues of the couple. They both want to get the spark in their relationship back but both are waiting for the other to make the move. They’re both desiring more while being complacent with how things are. But as the story progresses, their story somewhat takes the back-burner to the events around them. They’re interactions with the world around them become more and more dangerous as they get farther and farther from “civilization.” Interspersed throughout the story is incredibly moving descriptions of the Sahara Desert and the villages they come across.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Cain_The_Postman_Always_Rings_TwiceIf you like quick reads and/or crime novels, this is the book for you. Around 100 pages, you can knock this one out in an afternoon. I never figured out what the longish title meant but I did really enjoy this short book. The story follows Frank Chambers, a man who roams around California. He stops at a diner and ends up working for the Greek man that owns it. Soon Chambers strikes up a relationship with the owner’s wife. It’s a tumultuous, passionate affair. Soon they come up with an idea to get rid of the husband and have a life together. When that fails, they try another plan. And then things start getting unnecessarily complex. Let’s just say the story ends with one of them on death row…

The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy

220px-GingerManThis fun novel was one of those stories where you almost hate the main character the whole time but love reading about him. Sebastian Dangerfield is an American student of law at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He’s lazy, usually drunk and is horrible to his English wife and child. He spends all their rent money, he tries (and sometimes succeeds) to sleep with every woman that catches his eye. Him and all his friends are struggling to make their way in life, running out of money and wanting wives and wealth to just fall in their lap. The story was a crazy ride through pubs and cities and bedrooms and fights and screaming landlords. I heard a rumor that they’re making this into a movie starring Johnny Depp. I could get into that. It would be a lot of fun too watch. The only problem, he’s not ginger.

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

TheMagnificentAmbersonsThis was a great book to end the list on. Not life changing, but a really solid read. The story follows the Amberson family through their rise and fall leading into the Industrial age of the American midwest. Focusing on the grandson of the patriarch, George Amberson Minafar, we see what happens when somebody grows up with wealth and position and no understanding of why. George’s arrogance and position blinds him to what’s going on around him. And through him falling in love with a young lady, and his mother falling in love with her father, we see the Amberson fortune be swept away by the rising tide of industrialism. The book does a great job of portraying this idea in so many ways. They actual health and wellbeing of the family, the quality of the houses they live in, the importance of the neighborhood they reside in and the modes of transportation they choose to use. All these aspects of the Ambersons show how they miss the oncoming transformation of the world and what happens because of this. And it’s all masterly done by Booth Tarkington.

I finished this book on the train to work last Friday morning. Tears came to my eyes when I read the last words. I’m not sure if it was because of the beautiful ending to the book or because of me finishing the last novel in this large task of reading the 100 greatest novels.

Either way, I did it. We did it. Thanks for being with me these past four years. Onto the next project…

 

 

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MYNIYL – Chance the Rapper

I know it’s been a while since the last “Music You Need in Your Life” post. Sorry. But I need to tell you about 23-year-old Chance the Rapper, if you haven’t already heard him. He’s been working his way up in the hiphop world the last few years, just releasing his third mixtape, Coloring Book. “Mixtape” because he releases his albums for free. He refuses to sign with a label and refuses to sell his music. A truly independent artist that wants to control all aspects of his music, promotion, and brand.

Chance_3

It’s pretty impressive how much he has accomplished while staying independent. He’s had incredible verses on Kanye’s last record (and co-writing numerous songs), Macklemore’s last record, Lil Wayne, Skrillex, Action Bronson, and many others. He was the first independent artist to perform on Saturday Night Live. He released a free experimental jazz/hiphop album with Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment titled Surf. Well, let me stop talking about him and show you some music.

I guess we can start with a song off his newest mixtape. The song, “Angels,” is a lot about his love of Chicago, his daughter and a lot of other things. I love the shots of him on top the el:


We can work our way back in time. This next song is the first song I heard him rapping on. I had to do some research to figure out who was rapping because his name is nowhere on the Surf album. I fell in love with how much ease, how much emotion he can put in his rapping. It’s joyful, it’s truthful, it’s incredible. Plus, the video is a lot of fun. Here’s “Sunday Candy:”


How about a live performance? He always changes up his tracks a bit when he performs. Let’s let Chance take us to church with his performance on Jimmy Fallon:


“I don’t make songs for free, I make ’em for freedom.”

 

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2016 in Music, Music Review, MYNIYL

 

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100 Greatest Novels: Wide Sargasso Sea, Under the Net & Sophie’s Choice

Today we’re talking about three more of the 100 greatest novels. Two of them are by what is all too rare in this list, a woman! Finally. After this, I’ll probably only have one more post in this series for the last four books. Can you believe that!? Let’s get to it.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

JeanRhys_WideSargassoSeaThis book is somewhat unique (for this list, at least) because it was written as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. If you’re familiar with that book, this novel is the background of Mr. Rochester’s marriage that Jane learns a little about. If you’re not familiar with Jane Eyre, don’t worry. It’s not necessary to read and/or enjoy this novel. The story follows Antoinette Cosway’s childhood in Jamaica into her unhappy marriage with Mr. Rochester. This quick and easy to read novel also delves into many heavy issues. Racial inequality, the relationship between men and women, colonialism, displacement, all this plays a part in this novel.

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

UnderTheNetThis novel was a lot of fun to read. Set in London, it follows a young author as he’s kicked out of where he’s staying. His complex relationships with the lady who owned his flat and a pair of beautiful twins are thoroughly picked apart throughout his roaming. He get’s mixed up with the film rights of a French novel, philosophizes with an unnecessarily rich man, steals a movie star dog, almost becomes a Socialist, get’s an actual job for once, loses the job, makes a quick trip to Paris, decides he’s in love with a few different women…all in the few pages of this novel. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad, this book was always entertaining.

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

SophiesChoiceSome of you might be familiar with the movie that’s based off this novel featuring Meryl Streep. I haven’t seen the move so I can’t compare the two or tell you how closely one follows the other. Anyway, Sophie’s Choice. This was an incredibly fascinating novel for a few different reasons. First, one of the main characters, Sophie, is a Polish Catholic survivor of Auschwitz and the novel is set in 1947. I’m not too familiar with that many novels about Holocaust survivors just a few years after the end of WWII. Usually, it’s about their experiences during the war, not after. And although Sophie’s Choice touches on most of Sophie’s experiences in and before Auschwitz, it’s still very interesting to read about her issues with survival: guilt and physical health being too of the biggest issues.

I’m kind of jumping around…let me tell you a little what the book is about. It’s narrated by Stingo, a 23-year old aspiring writer who moves to Brooklyn. At his new boarding house, he gets drawn into the tumultuous relationship between Sophie and Nathan, an American Jew who seems to be a genius. They have some of the most violent and emotionally intense arguments, have unnecessarily loud sex above Stingo’s bedroom and deeply discuss classical music and literature. All of this with Stingo hovering on the edge of their story, falling madly in love with Sophie. Through the novel, we slowly learn about Sophie’s life before WWII and her experiences in Auschwitz. Her story during the war and her story in the Brooklyn boarding house both lead her to a “choice” she has to make. A choice between life and death for too many people she cares about. I’ll let you read the novel (or I guess watch the movie) to figure out what choices she has to make and what consequences they lead to.


That’s it for today. The next novel is The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. I have a few ideas for some other blogs. You might see a few of those before the final post in the 100 greatest novels series. Until next time.

 

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100 Greatest Novels: Tobacco Road, Ironweed & The Magus

It doesn’t feel real to be this close to the end of the 100 greatest novels list. I truly can’t believe how close we’re getting. Today, I’m talking about three more: 91-93. Let’s go.

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell

220px-TobaccoRoadNovelThe first two novels we’ll be talking about were really quick reads from authors that I weren’t familiar with, both set in the Great Depression. First, we have this novel by Erskine (what a name!) Caldwell. Set in rural Georgia, the story follows a family of sharecroppers as they sink deeper and deeper into poverty and starvation. We meet an interesting swath of characters throughout the book. They’re all ignorant, stubborn and blindly religious. All the events are driven by their stupidity and are completely unnecessary. The dialogue is incredibly simplistic. The story is quick and fatalistic. Overall, I’d give it a big, “Eh…”

Ironweed by William Kennedy

220px-IronweedNovelOur second Great Depression novel, but this time in the North. Set in Albany, New York, this story follows an alcoholic homeless man when he returns to his hometown. He originally ran away because he accidentally killed his infant son. As he walks around his hometown looking for places to sleep, food to eat and quick jobs for a few bucks, he’s confronted with his past. He has hallucinations of deceased people from his past. Family members, people he killed and others all want to confront him. His mistakes with his family are weighing on him. His involvement with labor protests and strikes are being relived. And this all happens amongst more drinking and freezing nights on the street. This novel is the third book in a cycle of novels about Albany and I enjoyed it enough to want to read the other two. Maybe someday soon…

The Magus by John Fowles

Themagus_coverSo this book. I don’t even know where to start. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something so intriguing, so frustrating, so pretentious, yet so enjoyable. Some pages I hated it, I hated Fowles with a passion. The next pages I would think he’s a genius, one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century. But let me try to tell you a little about this book itself. So the story’s following this British dude named Nicholas Urfe who’s teaching English on a small Greek island. While bored and roaming around the island, he meets this rich eccentric named Maurice Conchis. While hearing the story of Conchis, Nicholas starts seeing ghosts and events from the past being performed. Assuming Conchis is playing some performance art of a game, he goes along with all he sees. Overtime he becomes more and more involved with the games until he’s a “performer” himself. I’ll let Wikipedia’s plot summary explain a little more because it’s written so well:

Nicholas is gradually drawn into Conchis’s psychological games, his paradoxical views on life, his mysterious persona, and his eccentric masques. At first, Nicholas takes these posturings of Conchis, what the novel terms the “godgame,” to be a joke, but they grow more elaborate and intense. Nicholas loses his ability to determine what is real and what is artifice. Against his will and knowledge, he becomes a performer in the godgame. Eventually, Nicholas realises that the re-enactments of the Nazi occupation, the absurd playlets after de Sade, and the obscene parodies of Greek myths are not about Conchis’ life, but his own.

The further I went into the novel and Nicholas into the godgame, the more mysterious it all became. Everything was a lie, everybody’s performing. Every page proved the previous page wrong. Every event was more real and more absurd and more false than the last. Combined with hundreds of references to Greek mythology, British playwrights, French philosophers and other, this all becomes incredibly pretentious and frustrating. But what an adventure, for Nicholas and the reader.


So this brings us to #94, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. We only have two or three more blog posts left in this list. What will I do then!?

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Old Wives’ Tale, The Call of the Wild, Loving & Midnight’s Children

Today we have to talk about 4 more novels from the list of the 100 greatest. These four bring us ever so close to the end. We actually only have ten left! Can you believe it? I can’t. We started this in the summer of 2012, posting the first on August 20th. I know it’s been a long journey but it’s exciting to finally get close to the conclusion. Well, let’s get to the books.

The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett

The_Old_Wives_Tale_(Arnold_Bennett_novel)_cover_artThis first novel is a sweeping narrative of two sisters. It follows both their lives from childhood to death and covers most events, mundane to extreme, in great detail. The story is broken into four parts: the sisters’ childhood until their separation, each sisters’ individual life story through the many years of adulthood, and finally their old age together. The sisters are very different and while reading, you’ll relate to both in different ways at different parts of their stories. I really enjoyed Sophia’s adulthood chapter because she spends most of her years in Paris and it was fun to see how a English woman raised in a small town reacts and conforms to the life of a Parisian. This novel contains many frustrating situations and characters, just like real life. I hated Constance’s son. Hated him.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

220px-JackLondoncallwildI haven’t read a book this quick and easy in a long time. Finishing it in less than a day, this story is an intense survival story about a dog that’s stolen from his family and sold and shipped to Canada as a sled dog. And it’s told from the dog’s perspective, which is unique for this list of novels. As the dog, Buck, learns to survive in this harsh climate and harsh life, he slowly reverts back to a wild state. He hears the “call of the wild,” the call of his ancestors. The story deals with some difficult to read scenes with dogs and people not being able to handle the harsh climates of the Yukon and the difficult lives of a gold rush. But overall, the story has a satisfying conclusion. Plus, it’s free on Kindle so…

Loving by Henry Green

Loving_Henry_GreenThis novel is for all the Downton Abbey lovers out there. Set during World War II, the story is the lives of the servants and their employers at an Irish castle. It follows the conflicts, gossip and flirtations of the servants and how they intersect with the lives of their employers. At first, I had a difficult time getting into this novel. Multiple names are used for each character depending on who’s doing the talking. The storyline jumps around to different interactions around the castle. It read like a film that’s shot with one camera. We can only pick up one interaction after leaving another, even if we cut in halfway through a conversation and don’t really have an idea of what’s going on. It was somewhat confusing at first but over the course of the book, I learned the characters and really enjoyed the novel.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

MidnightsChildrenNow this was a fascinating read. I loved the adventure of these pages. This was a mystical story about Saleem Sinai, who is born at midnight. And not just any midnight but the moment that India gains it’s independence from England. The story starts with Saleem’s grandfather and works up to his birth. From his birth on, his life and the history of India are perfectly intertwined, mirrored upon each other. The story follows his life and the historical events at the beginning of India’s independence to the partitioning of India and Pakistan. As the story goes on, his life and India’s politics become more and more complex. We finally make it to the splitting of Pakistan into Bangladesh and Pakistan. We also get Pakistan and India’s battles over Kashmir in the story and in his life. We get the Emergency proclaimed by Indira Gandhi, a state of emergency called to suspend civil liberties and solidify her hold onto power. This event is the denouement of India’s early years of their independence and the denouement of Saleem’s story.

Oh, I forgot to mention. Saleem, and every other child born between midnight and 1:00am when India gained her independence, are born with special powers. Using his telepathic powers, Saleem brings all the Midnight Children together to try to use their powers for the betterment of India. This magical or mystical aspect of the novel really connects all the complex storylines and fascinating connections of history of country and of family into an incredible reading experience. I’d highly recommend this book to anybody.


This brings us to the final ten novels. Next is Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell. What a first name!

Until next time…

 

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Death of the Heart, Lord Jim & Ragtime

The next three from the 100 greatest novels were interesting in how different they were. I liked each one more than the one before it. We’ll get into the reasons below. I’m excited to talk about the last one though. Let’s go ahead and get to it.

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

220px-TheDeathOfTheHeartHere we are again with another British novel set in London in the early 1900s. I’m getting fairly tired of these novels but I feel bad for doing that. I would probably thoroughly enjoy some of them if it wasn’t for reading so many during this list. Anyway, let’s get to this novel. Like all of them, you have the one character that doesn’t fit into London society. This time it’s Portia, who moves in with her half-brother after her mother and their shared father dies. She, of course, falls in love with a friend of the family who tries to straddle his relationship with Portia and his obligations towards London society. The one thing that makes this story interesting is Portia’s age. She’s only 16 when she moves to London so we have somewhat of a coming-of-age story. We get the frustrations of a teenager towards her authority figures but how much authority can her half-brother and sister-in-law really hold over her?

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

2b6bcb34ed3d68ff7f7aaf65ce1987ceSo if you’ve read any of Conrad’s novels, you’ll know what to expect. The story usually has something to do with the sea and ships. And many of Conrad’s novels are structured by being a story told by Charles Marlow. He is usually with his fellow shipmates and he narrates the story. All of his narration is in quotations so any quotes told in the story use single quotation marks. Then it get’s real confusing when you have characters in the story quoting somebody else. Sometimes you end up with 3 or 4 levels of quotation marks! Once you get past all that and the introduction of the story into why this Jim character is named Lord Jim, it gets really interesting. Jim ends up in a secluded village and becomes a leader, a lord, to the people. And it’s a fascinating transition and ultimate ending to the story. Quick note, this is free on the Kindle.

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

RagtimeDoctrorowHardcoverReally, I just rushed through writing the above paragraphs because I’m so excited to talk about this novel. I wasn’t familiar with Doctorow when I started Ragtime and I did not read any synopsis of the story. I assumed it might have something to do with Scott Joplin or the musical genre ragtime. The novel alluded to the genre but it didn’t play a huge role.

Anyway, this book. This book is what I want every book I read to be. I had a hard time starting the next novel in the list because I just wanted to read everything by Doctorow. Let me tell you what I’m so excited about. This novel combined fact and fiction in such a flawless, beautiful way that I wanted to cry with joy. Historical characters are treated with the same care as fictional characters. Historical events are intertwined with fictional storylines. I’m going to quote Wikipedia’s paragraph about this because it explains it fairly well:

The novel is unusual for the irreverent way that historical figures and fictional characters are woven into the narrative, making for surprising connections and linking different events and trains of thought about fame and success, on the one hand, and poverty and racism on the other. Harry Houdini plays a prominent yet incidental part, reflecting on success and mortality. Arch-capitalist financier J.P. Morgan, pursuing his complex delusions of grandeur, is delivered a plainly spoken comeuppance from down-to-earth Henry Ford. Socialite Evelyn Nesbit becomes involved with the slum family and is aided by the anarchist agitator Emma Goldman. The black moderate politician Booker T. Washington tries to negotiate with Coalhouse Walker, without success.

I feel like a novel like this does better than any textbook or biography or history book at making the reader understand what a time period was like. We can google names and dates. But how do we understand what the wealthy and the poverty-stricken felt? How can we know what the average person felt about certain events or even decades? Can we know how the heroes viewed the citizens and vice versa? We can, but with only extensive research into the histories of the rich and famous and into the journals of the not rich and not famous, extensive research into the biographies of the mammoths of history and the news articles of the mundane events around town. Who has time for that? So read E. L. Doctorow. At least read Ragtime. I can’t vouch for the rest of his novels yet.

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Alright, next up is The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett, number 87 on the list. We’re getting seriously close to the end. What will I do with myself?

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2016 in 100 Greatest Novels, Book Review, Lists, Literature

 

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