Featured

A #BlackLivesMatter Reading List

My cousin and I discussed collaborating on a reading list. Here is what I came up with.

FICTION

The Wilful Girl by Anonymous (2000 BC)

The Book of Thoth by Anonymous (5th – 1st Century BC)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Acebe

Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Americanah by Chiamanda Ngozi Adiche

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

“The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

The Water Dancer by Ta Nahiesi Coates

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Faucet

The Conjure Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher

Bang! By Sharon G. Flake

A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Roots by Alex Haley

“Thank You, M’am” by Langston Hughes

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Jonah’s Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston

Of Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson

Corregidora by Gayle Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

Passing by Nella Larsen

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Jazz by Toni Morrison

“Recitatif” by Toni Morrison

Sula by Toni Morrison

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

Killer Angels  by Walter Dean Myers

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

The Women of Brewser Place by Gloria Naylor

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Cane by Jean Toomer

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Native Son by Richard Wright

NONFICTION

“The Danger of a Single Story” [TED Talk] by Chimanda Ngozi Adiche

Why We Should All Be Feminists by Chiamanda Ngozi Adiche

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin

Between the World and Me by Ta-Naheisi Coates 

A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women In the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII by Mary Cronk Farrell

The Signifying Monkey by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

The Color of Water by James McBride

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

A Muslim American Slave by Omar Ibn Said

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

“We Need to Talk About an Injustice” [TED Talk] by Bryan Stevenson

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley

POETRY

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

“an agony. as now” by Amiri Baraka

“In the Front Yard” by Gwendolyn Brooks

The Complete Works of Langston Hughes

“The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes

“Harlem” by Langston Hughes

“Hanging Fire” by Audre Lorde

“In the House of Yemanja” by Audre Lorde

for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

Cane by Jean Toomer

BY WHITE AUTHORS, but have useful insight:

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (fiction)

Evicted by Matthew Desmond (nonfiction)

Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography by Robert Hemenway (nonfiction)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (nonfiction)

I would like to add to it.

What do you think is missing from this list? Comment below.

Featured

Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy & Responsibility Using Restorative Justice by Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein

“Every student deserves teachers who care for them” (Maynard and Weinstein 13).

I did a lot of reflecting this past week on ways I can use my white privilege to dissolve racial oppression and injustice in this country.

It’s a tall order and it’s not something I — or any one person — can do alone. It has to be systematic dismantling of inherently racist systems built on the backs of slaves, the acceptance of Jim Crow laws, and around white privilege.

One of the institutions we need to rebuild is the one I work for: education.

As an educator, I have an inherent responsibility to change the system I work in. professional development book club in my building read Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy & Responsibility Using Restorative Justice by Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein last fall.

I went through my reading notes on this book, the quotes I collected, and the discussions I had with colleagues. I felt like, if education really took these hacks to heart, we would be further than we are now in dismantling the inherent prejudices that exist in our school systems.

The authors open with a discussion of the school-to-prison pipeline, a path paved by education and criminal justice that funnels people of color through more than white people with inequitable justice. Maynard and Weinstein relate stacks of data illustrating that students who experience detentions, suspensions, expulsions, and other old-school discipline methods bias towards students of color and only work to increase the harm the student experiences, leading to a higher likelihood those students end up in prison.

“black students are suspended and expelled three times as often as white students, and students with disabilities are suspended twice as often as their non-disabled peers. Zero-tolerance policies, which deliver harsh, predetermined punishments, are a root cause of many suspensions and expulsions in schools to day, often affecting minority students the most”

Maynard & Weinstein 9

If you know anything about how our criminal justice system works, you might know that mass incarceration for nonviolent crimes work often to disenfranchise and further limit people of color in this country. The system works as Michelle Alexander calls it, the “New Jim Crow” laws (a forthcoming post on her book in the future!).

Hacking School Discipline suggests multiple methods for schools boards, administrators, and educators to institute restorative justice in classrooms and schools. What they have to say about why these methods work and the methods themselves make so much sense.

They open each chapter by identifying the problems educators face: “students are not being heard,” “classroom issues aren’t being dealt with in the classroom,” “punitive consequences do not work,” “relying on rules doesn’t work,” “too many students maintain a fixed mindset,” “students lack self-awareness and regulation,” “students don’t speak the language of empathy,” “schoolwide policies are not enough,” and “we don’t know what we don’t know.”

For each of these problems, the authors offer a “hack”: let students talk and listen to them, circle up with students, repair the harm with them, throw out the rules, create growth mindsets, teach mindfulness, cultivate empathy, build restorative support, and create a “snapshot” of what’s going on with students.

I know. Easier said than done. It always is.

But, each chapter defines each hack, lays out a specific strategy you can try the very next day, a blueprint for full implementation, ways to overcome pushback, and specific examples collected from schools already using these hacks.

It’s not about letting students “off-the-hook” for negative behaviors, because that too causes harm. It’s about reframing how we understand these behaviors and how we as adults and educators respond to them.

“[restorative justice] does not mean we need to accept disrespect and other negative behaviors . . . combat them in another way”

Maynard and Weinstein 13

“within every wrongdoing is a teachable moment . . . .take advantage of that moment rather than throwing it — and the student — out with the trash . . . . Every behavior is a form of communication”

Maynard & Weinstein 10

That’s why this book is an excellent read for parents, too! Take what Maynard and Weinstein suggest, and apply it within your own homes.

Children and young people often behave in ways that are not appropriate because they have never learned how to otherwise handle the situation. This is true of adults too. Just because you had a mentor or parent in your life teaching you and providing you space to practice a behavior, does not mean everyone has that privilege.

“students are not inherently troubled. Something has happened to cause trouble”

Maynard and Weinstein 11

“All humans are hardwired to connect. Just as we need food, shelter, and clothing, human beings also need strong and meaningful relationships to thrive”

Maynard and Weinstein 11

If there is someone in your life behaving in a way you don’t like, the hacks in this book might help you better understand why they are acting that way and how you can most constructively respond. The authors speak directly to people in education, but aren’t we all teachers in some fashion or another?

If you are an educator, make it a top priority to read this book. Begin implementing strategies as soon as you can. Each chapter even has a section called “What You Can Do Tomorrow.” I tried the “Repair the Harm” hack the day after reading the chapter in early November 2019.

My American Studies Students were working on a collaborative compare and contrast paper in which they compared the experience of reading the text of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to watching a filmed performance of it. One of my pairs got into a tough spot. One of the partners wasn’t pulling their weight; their partner felt pressure to do well. Instead of confronting their partner about their lack of effort, they chose to plagiarize sections from an online source. When I discovered this (I always tell my students, “I can smell a good plagiarism job a mile away . . . and so far I have yet to see anyone do a good plagiarism job”), I used the first three hacks in this book: talk & listen, circle up, and repair the harm.

It wasn’t perfect, it went a little bumpy, but it ultimately ended for the best. My relationships with the students remained intact and they each took responsibility for their actions. They remained friends, too, which is what I was most happy about, I think. One of them was even our choice for the Honors Night recognition for our class because we appreciated the way they learned from their mistake and used what they learned to do better in the future.

Ultimately, using hacks like this one elevated the quality of learning in my classroom. At first, I wondered if spending the time these authors recommended would really be worth it. In the end, I realized that these practices save me time in preventing troubling behaviors down the road and from having to restart a harmed relationship with a student I disciplined from a zero-tolerance mindset.

“Time spent disciplining students takes away from the primary reason many of us went into teaching: to help kids learn and grow”

Maynard and Weinstein 12

While the book club and I all had questions and varying levels of skepticism, I think it was clear to all of us that this is what schools and educators need to be implementing to strengthen relationships with students, teach students how to take responsibility for their actions, and to change the flawed system we have now.

This weekend, I started to wonder about a few things: Why aren’t these methods required of educators? Why aren’t we evaluated on this but 30% of my evaluation depends on standardized test scores (standardized tests are another tool of racial oppression, by the way)?

It seems like there might be something off in our priorities when it comes to education and justice in this country. There’s no time like the present to get to work! Reading this book is an excellent first step.

What other steps can educators take to ensure equity and justice in our schools? Leave me some comments!

Featured

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

If a victim speaks but no one acknowledges her, does she make a sound? (231).

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Assault

I knew Chanel Miller before she revealed herself to be the survivor of a sexual assault at the hand of Stanford student, Brock Turner.

Nobody earns the right to rape. It is still rape when he is a good swimmer.

Miller 249

I knew her from her anonymous victim impact statement published on BuzzFeed after the measly sentence that Brock Turner earned (six months; he got out early for “good behavior”).

I knew her because her experience is every woman’s experience with sexual assault as well as sexual harassment.

I didn’t widely share my own story until the #MeToo movement. Many women didn’t; but, many of us have one.

A victim is also the smiling girl in a green apron making your coffee, she just handed you your change. She just taught a class of first-graders. She has her headphones in tapping her foot on the subway. Victims are all around you.

Miller 252

I was not assaulted, but one night I was drugged. If not for my friends, it’s not difficult to imagine what would have happened. We were out, socializing, laughing, feeling safe because we were amongst each other. Nevertheless, someone managed to slip something into my drink. A few sips in and I felt dizzy and feverish and asked my friend to take me outside. I wasn’t able to stand, everything was out of focus and I got sick to my stomach. My friend, a nurse, had to practically carry me to her car. Her boyfriend told me later that I had only had one drink according to my tab at the bar; the bartender didn’t charge my card and gave it to my friend’s boyfriend for safe keeping. My friend got me home, where I continued to be sick. Eventually, the drug left my system, leaving me convulsing — thankfully in my own bed, with my best friend sitting on the edge with me the whole time. She took my dog out for me and stayed with me until I felt normal again and was able to sleep safely.

The sad thing is, this is a story with a happy ending. I was safe. Many stories don’t end this way.

Chanel’s story didn’t. She, too, went to a party with friends and her younger sister. She was a recent college grad with a new job. She does not remember blacking out at the party, but she does remember waking up in the campus security office where they shuffled her over to a rape clinic.

It wasn’t until halfway through her exam she realized what was happening — that she was in the clinic because she was sexually assaulted. Because of two Swedish students riding by the dumpster where Turner assaulted Miller, because they interrupted Turner . . . Chanel made it to the campus security office. The students believed she was a victim of assault.

In the aftermath of the realization of what happened to her, Chanel struggled to keep her head above water. This book — Know My Name — is the story of how she survived the aftermath of her assault.

Miller remained anonymous until the fall of 2019, right before her book hit shelves. Before this, the public knew her as Emily Doe. Miller writes about her struggle to compartmentalize her identity as Chanel and her identity as Emily.

Emily lived inside a tiny world, narrow and confined. She didn’t have any friends, appeared only occasionally to go to the courthouse, police station, or make calls in the stairwell. I did not like her fragility, how quietly she spoke and seemed to know nothing. I knew she was hungry for nourishment, to be acknowledged and cared for, but I refused to recognize her needs. I did not want to learn more about the court system, refused therapy. You don’t need it, I told her. In the beginning I was good at keeping the selves separate. You could never be able to detect that I was suffering. But if you looked closely enough, cracks appeared.

Miller 53

Her story also exposes the injustice and unfairness of the current system in place for survivors/victims of sexual assault. 

When I’d been assigned a DA, I thought the letters stood for defense attorney. District attorney . . .Brock has a defense attorney. I thought, But I need the defense, self-defense, to protect me from him.

Miller 46

Additionally, the way in which the media and social networking operate now exposed Miller to extended trauma.

The media was no help. They counted my drinks and counted the seconds Brock could swim two hundred yards, topped the article with a picture of Brock wearing a tie; it could’ve doubled as his LinkedIn profile. I wanted to trim all the fat, all these distractions, to show you the meat of the story.

Miller 51

My DA would later tell me women aren’t preferred on juries of rape cases because they’re likely to resist empathizing with the victim, insisting there must be something wrong with her because that would never happen to me. I thought of mothers who had commented, My daughters would never . . . which made me sad because comments like that did not make her daughter any safer, just ensured that if the daughter was raped, she’d likely have one less person to go to.

Miller 152

Miller’s descriptions of how the assault impacted every crevice of her life are at once heartbreaking, beautiful, raw, and staggering.

The assault harmed me physically, but there were bigger things that got broken. Broken trust in intuitions. Broken faith in the place I thought would protect me.

Miller 296

Despite everything, despite the horrors of her experience, Miller found ways to be creative, loving, and strong throughout her ordeal. She writes about her studies in printing at the Rhode Island School of Design, how her boyfriend supported her and loved her, and how her victim impact statement came to be. 

The book becomes a synthesis of Emily and Chanel. Across pages, Miller establishes how both Emily and Chanel are a part of her and how once she realized that, she could rise strong.

I did nothing wrong.

I am strong.

I have a voice.

I told the truth.

Miller 101

I had done the impossible, showed up. Those who watched me cry on the stand might have perceived me as fragile, but I believed it to be the quiet beginning of my strength. I did what I’d never thought I could do, had somehow been spit out on the other side, still far from the finish line, but alive (121).

Miller 121

You have to hold out to see how your life unfolds, because it is most likely beyond what you can imagine. It is not a question of if you will survive this, but what beautiful things await you when you do. I had to believe her, because she was living proof. Then she said, Good and bad things come from the universe holding hands. Wait for the good to come.

Miller 138

No is the beginning and end of this story. I may not know how many yards away from the house I peed, or what I’d eaten earlier on that January day. But I will always know this answer. I was finally answering the question he’d never bothered to ask.

Miller 171

I am not Brock Turner’s victim. I am not his anything. I don’t belong to him.

Miller viii

I had a voice, he stripped it, left me groping around blind for a bit, but I always had it. I just used it like I never had to use it before. I do not owe him my success, my becoming, he did not create me. The only credit Brock Turner can take is for assaulting me, and he could never even admit to that.

Miller 289

Out of her pain comes Miller’s commentary on how our society maintains a flawed view of women’s equality and how we treat survivors/victims of sexual assault. She unflinchingly calls out the justice system, the media, public attitude, gender norms, and the way we raise our children to treat one another.

I didn’t know that money could make the cell doors swing open. I didn’t know that if a woman was drunk when the violence occurred, she wouldn’t be taken seriously. I didn’t know that if he was drunk when the violence occurred, people would offer him sympathy. I didn’t know that my loss of memory would become his opportunity. I didn’t know that being a victim was synonymous with not being believed.

Miller 23

It should have been enough to say, I did not want a stranger touching my body. It felt strange to say, I have a boyfriend, which is why I did not want Brock touching my body. What if you’re assaulted and you didn’t already belong to a male? Was having a boyfriend the only way to have your autonomy respected? Later I’d read suggestions that I cried rape because I was ashamed. I had cheated on my boyfriend. Somehow the victim never wins.

Miller 66

Women are raised to work with dexterity, to keep their nimble fingers ready, their minds alert. It is her job to know how to handle the stream of bombs, how to kindly decline giving her number, how to move a hand from the button of her jeans, to turn down a drink. When a woman is assaulted, one of the first questions people ask is, Did you say no? This question assumes that the answer was already yes, and that it is her job to revoke the agreement. To defuse the bomb she was given. But why are they allowed to touch us until we physically fight them off? Why is the door open until we have to slam it shut?

Miller 83

In that courtroom, my identity had been reduced to something in the category of “other”.

Miller 195

When men were upset, lonely, or neglected, we [women] were killed

Miller 219

Erasure is a form of oppression, the refusal to see.

Miller 285

I had to share so many of Miller’s words in this post, because I believe we all need to hear from her. Not only does she exquisitely explain what it is like from the vantage point of a survivor/victim, a minority, and a woman; she used her voice to change the system! Because of her victim impact statement, legislation regarding how courts in California handle sexual assault cases changed. Hearing her story and seeing the impact her voice had on the world at large is a reminder to me — and I hope to you — that you matter.

You have a voice.

Use it.

This book does not have a happy ending. The happy part is there is no ending, because I’ll always find a way to keep going.

Miller 325
Featured

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

“This is the story of two boys living in Baltimore with similar histories and an identical name: Wes Moore. One of us is free and has experienced things that he never even knew to dream about as a kid. The other will spend every day until his death behind bars for an armed robbery that left a police officer and a father of five dead. The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his” (xi).

I have the privilege of teaching Dual Credit Composition I at my school this year through our local community college. One of the projects the other teacher and I planned for students was a book club of common reads typical on college campuses. 

A group in her class and a group in my class each chose The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore.

This book was not on my radar before this project, but I’m glad it is now.

The Other Wes Moore is part autobiography and part biography. That sounds weird, but that’s one of the unique things about this book.

The premise is that Author Wes Moore and Other Wes Moore were both born in Baltimore, Maryland during the 1980s at the height of the rise of cocaine as well as the War on Drugs. 

I started to think, maybe we ought to consider this drug problem a public health problem rather than a criminal justice problem

56

But, like so much in Baltimore, even this beautiful house was bloodstained

20

‘Fuck God,” he said, drawing in a lungful of smoke. ‘If He does exist, he sure doesn’t spend any time in West Baltimore

140

Both came from humble households. Both are African American. Both are men.

Both felt fatherless.

Author Wes lost his father at a young age; Other Wes met his father, but did not have a father in his house as he grew up. Both young men made choices that led to disciplinary action. Each man believes the absence of their father is part of what shaped their own trajectories.

‘Your father wasn’t there because he couldn’t be, my father wasn’t there because he chose not to be. We’re going to mourn their absence in different ways

3

After an arrest for graffiti, Author Wes’s mother forced him to attend military school, where he initially feels alone and isolated. Other Wes sold drugs and ended up in jail. 

Many governors projected the numbers of beds they’d need for prison facilities . . . by examining the reading scores of third graders. Elected officials deduced that a strong percentage of kids reading below their grade level by third grade would be needing a secure place to stay when they got older. Considering my performance in the classroom thus far, I was well on my way to needing state-sponsored accommodations

54

Boredom in teenage boys is a powerful motivation to create chaos

87

From there, these young men’s paths diverge in very different ways. Author Wes discusses how military school “saves” him and propels him down the trail of prestigious college, travel, a military career, a happy marriage, and healthy relationships with his family.

This uniform had become a force field that kept the craziness of the world outside from getting too close to me, but I wondered if it was just an illusion

118

But, Other Wes Moore, despite his best efforts to get out of the drug trade, stay out of jail, get out of poverty, be a good father, still finds himself part of a robbery where an officer gets shot. Other Wes Moore finds himself in prison again.

Because of their extremely similar backgrounds and name, Author Wes Moore learns of Other Wes Moore. He decided to meet him in person by visiting him in prison. Author Wes felt determined to figure out how two African American young men begin life so similarly, with the same name even, but go in such different directions. 

This impulse seems to stem from a fear of Author Wes that his life could just as easily have been the one to derail. 

It’s unsettling to know how little separates each of us from another life altogether”

xi

‘Do you think we’re all just products of our environments?

His smile dissolved into a smirk, with the left side of his face resting at ease. ‘I think so, or maybe products of our expectations.

‘Others’ expectations of us or our expectations for ourselves?

‘I mean others’ expectations that you take on as your own.

I realized then how difficult it is to separate the two. The expectations that others place on us help us form our expectations of ourselves.

‘We will do what others expect of us,” Wes said. “If they expect us to graduate, we will graduate. If they expect us to get a job, we will get a job. If they expect us to go to jail, then that’s where we will end up, too. At some point, you lose control.

I sympathized with him, but I recoiled from his ability to shed responsibility seamlessly and drape it at the feet of others.

‘True, but it’s easy to lose control when you were never looking for it in the first place

126-27

He sets the book up in the introduction to suggest that he discovers the answers to his questioning. But, by the epilogue, he admits that he has more questions than answers. He still wonders what specifically led to the split between his life and Other Wes, but he also has questions about how this country treats young men of color and how those attitudes, why fathers are so important in the rearing of sons, and what detriment our justice system enacts to those who funnel into the system.

Ultimately, The Other Wes Moore is a story of manhood, specifically what it is like to be a man of color in the United States right now.

‘When did you feel like you’d become a man?’

‘When I first felt accountable to people other than myself. When I first cared that my actions mattered to people other than just me.’

67

In both places, young men go through a daily struggle trying to navigate their way through deadly streets, poverty, and the twin legacies of exclusion and low-level expectations But, they are not entirely unequipped — they also have the history of determined, improvisational survival, a legacy of generations who fought through even more oppressive circumstances

170

The students and I found this, on one hand, unsatisfying. We wanted answers. But, so did Author Wes. 

I liked that there weren’t answers, ultimately, because, that’s real life! Take this moment in time, for example! So many of us don’t have answers about how our life will change because of COVID19’s arrival in the United States, or our country. This change on a daily, hourly basis and so many people feel overwhelmed. 

‘About your question. I don’t know the answer

107

‘What made the difference?’

And the truth is that I don’t know. The answer is elusive. People are so wildly different, and it’s hard to know when genetics or environment or just bad luck is decisive

179

Very few lives hinge on any single moment or decision or circumstances

182

It’s comforting to remember right now that all aspects of life have their moments where there are not answers. We need to remember that sometimes, we don’t need answers, that the question is what’s really important. We need to keep questioning, even if there are no answers. 

Notable Passages

The basketball court is a strange patch of neutral ground, a meeting place for every element of a neighborhood’s cohort of young men. You’d find the high school phenoms running circles around the overweight has-beens, guys who’d effortlessly played above-the-rim years ago now trying to catch their breath and salvage what was left of their stylish games. You’d find the drug dealers there, mostly playing the sidelines, betting major money on pick up games and amateur tournaments but occasionally stepping onto the court, smelling like a fresh haircut and with gear on that was fine for sweating in. But even they couldn’t resist getting a little run in — and God help you if you played them too hard, or stepped on their brand new Nike Air Force Ones. You’d find the scrubs talking smack a mile a minute and the church boys who didn’t even bother changing out of their pointy shoes and button-up shirts. You’d find the freelance thugs pushing off for rebound and the A students, quietly showing off sickly jump shots and then running back downcourt eyes down, trying not to look too pleased with themselves. There would be the dude sweating through his post office uniform when he should’ve been delivering mail, and the brother who’d just come back from doing a bid in jail — you could tell by his chiseled arms and intense stare, and the cautious smile he offered every time a passing car would honk and the drive yell out his home, welcoming him home. We were all enclosed by the same fence, bumping into one another, fighting, celebrating. Showing one another our best and worst, revealing ourselves — even our cruelty and crimes 00 as if that fence had created a circle of trust. A brotherhood.

The relationship between the police and the people they served and protected changed during the 1980s. For almost as long as black folks have lived in this country, they’ve had a complicated relationship with law enforcement — and vice versa. But the situation in the eighties felt like a new low. Drugs had brought fear to both sides of the equation. You could see it in the people in the neighborhood, intimidated by the drug dealers and gangs, harassed by the petty crime of the crackheads, and frightened by the sometimes arbitrary and aggressive behavior of the cops themselves. On the other end of the relationship, the job of policemen, almost overnight, had gotten significantly tougher. The tide of drugs was matched by a tide of guns. The high stakes crack trade brought a new level of competition and organization to the streets

81

When it is time for you to leave school, leave your job, or even leave this earth, you make sure you have worked hard to make sure it mattered you were ever here

133

I hear you, but it’s not the process you should focus on; it’s the joy you will feel after you go through the process

170

Featured

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

“In the surrounding towns the whispering campaign that is the beginning of legend has already begun. ‘Salem’s Lot is reputed to be haunted” (11).

I’m not sure if it’s the best time to review ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King . . . or the worst. Since King depicts vampire bites and turning somewhat like a viral disease, this book will either make your more anxious or remind you that it could be worse . . .

. . . we could all be turning into vampires?

That’s not exactly comforting, but these days I’m looking for silver linings where I can!

I read ‘Salem’s Lot at the end of 2019, right after I finished Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches. And now, I’m really sort of interested in how authors continue to evolve this vampire trope in literature. If I ever go for a doctorate in Literature, maybe that can be my dissertation thesis . . .Literary Vampires: When He Goes from Having You for Dinner to Taking You Out to Dinner. Or, something like that.

‘Salem’s Lot was King’s second novel, published in 1975, after Carrie.The story revolves around the protagonist, Ben Mears, a writer who returns to a town where, in his childhood, he witnessed something horrific in the Marsten House — ‘Salem’s Lots own “haunted house.” Although swiftly entangled in a romantic affair with the town’s sweetheart, Susan, Ben cannot seem to get the Marsten House out of his mind. As it turns out, this is for good reason. Children start to go missing, dead animals are hung outside the cemetery as if sacrificed, and villagers start acting pretty funny. Instead of writing a horror novel, Ben starts living one.

I won’t give much away, except that at the heart of the novel, what the town seems to deal with is vampiric in nature. But, unlike my last read (A Discovery of Witches), these vampires of the ones of old — monsters that cannot step out into sunlight and scurry away from crosses, holy water, and garlic. They prey on the villagers, spreading the vampiric “virus” until nearly the entire town becomes one of vampires. 

I probably was supposed to be scared. But. . . I just wasn’t.

I’ve read two other King novels: The Shining (1977) and Pet Semetary (1983). They’re terrifying. They both have supernatural elements, but I think what is most terrifying in those novels is that humans can be just as evil and twisted — if not more so — than the supernatural beings and forces that surround them. 

Part of me wonders if King just didn’t have this theme down as a writer yet when he wrote his second novel . . . 

. . . OR, has Stephanie Myers ruined vampires for me? Are vampires just not scary anymore because they sparkled and take you out for a fancy dinner?

Then again, there’s nothing scarier to me than dating an overprotective, controlling, semi-abusive jerk, which many of today’s romantic vampires are. 

Even if not too scary, ‘Salem’s Lot is a good book and an enjoyable read.

Some Favorite Passages:

In America missing persons are as natural as cherry pie. We’re living in an automobile-oriented society. People pick up stakes an move on every two or three years. Sometimes they forget to leave an forwarding address. Especially the deadbeats.

10

Places change. Like people.

19.

If there was a home, it had been here. Even if it had only been four years, it was his.

22

There were fourteen steps, exactly fourteen. But the top one was smaller, out of proportion, as if it had been added to avoid the evil number.

24

In all small towns, scandal is always simmering on the back burner, like your Aunt Cindy’s baked beans. The bend produced most of the scandal, but every now and then someone with a little more status added something to the communal pot.

42-3

the Lot’s knowledge of the country’s torment was academic. Time went on a different schedule there. Nothing too nasty could happen in such a nice little town. Not there.

44

The scandal and violence connected with the house had occurred before their births, but small towns have long memories and pass their horrors down ceremonially from generation to generation.

51

We all have our bad dreams.

59

there may be some truth in that idea that houses absorb the emotions that are spent in them, that they hold a kind of . . . dry charge. Perhaps the right personality, that of an imaginative boy, for instance, could act as a catalyst on that dry charge, and cause it to produce an active manifestation of . . . something. I’m not talking about ghosts precisely. I’m talking about a kind of psychic television in three dimensions. Perhaps even something alive. A monster, if you like.

59

Sometimes I wonder that the very boards of those houses don’t dry out with the awful things that happen in dreams.

59

Well, that was just it. In the midst of life, we are in death.

74

He had ranged across the length and breadth of the English language like a solitary and oddly complacent Ancient Mariner: Steinbeck period one, Chaucer period two, the topic sentence period three, and the function of the gerund just before lunch. His fingers were permanently yellowed with chalk dust rather than nicotine, but it was still the residue of an addicting substance

107

Deals with the devil, all right, Larry thought, shuffling his papers. When you deal with him, notes come due in brimstone.

135

You’re the stranger in town until you been here twenty years.

160

The town has a sense, not of history, but of time, and the telephone poles seem to know this. If you lay your hand against one, you can feel the vibration from the wires deep in the wood, as if souls had been imprisoned in there and were struggling to get out.

167

She said there are evil men in the world, truly evil men. Sometimes we hear of them, but more often they work in absolute darkness. She said she had been cursed with a knowledge of two such men in her lifetime. One was Adolf Hitler. The other was her brother-in-law, Hubert Marsten.

181

There’s little good in sedentary small towns. Mostly indifference spiced with an occasional vapid evil — or worse, a conscious one.

192

Dark, don’t catch me here.

211

Most bullies, he had decided, were big and clumsy. They scared people by being able to hurt them. They fought dirty. Therefore, if you were not afraid, of being hurt a little, and if you were willing to fight dirty, a bully might be bested.

219

Talk did no good with bullies. Hurting was the only language that the Richie Boddins of the world seemed to understand, and Mark supposed that was why the world always had such a hard time getting along.

219

Understand death? Sure. That was when the monsters got you.

223

God, right, goodness, they were names for the same thing — in to battle against EVIL.

239

But there were no battles. There were only skirmishes of vague resolution. And EVIL did not wear one face but many, and all of them were vacuous and more often than not the chin was slicked with drool. In fact, he was being forced to the conclusion that there was no EVIL in the world at all but only evil — or perhaps (evil). At moments like this he suspected that Hitler had been nothing but a harried bureaucrat and Satan himself a mental defective with a rudimentary sense of humor — the kind that finds feeding firecrackers wrapped in bread to seagulls unutterably funny.

241

nobody beat the system or won the game, and only suckers ever thought they were ahead

243

Of course monsters existed; they were the men with their fingers on the thermonuclear triggers in six countries, the hijackers, the mass murderers, the child molesters. But not this.

260

humans manufacture evil just as the manufacture snot or excrement or fingernail pairings. That it doesn’t go away. Specifically, that the Marsten House may have become a kind of evil dry cell; a malign storage battery

311

Alone. Yes, that’s the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn’t hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym.

315

If afear cannot be articulated, it can’t be conquered. And the fears locked in small brains are much too large to pass through the orifice of the mouth.

316

The basis of all human fears, he thought. A closed door, slightly ajar.

316

The town knew about darkness. It knew about the darkness that comes on the land when rotation hides the land from the sun, and about the darkness of the human soul

321

This melting pot never melted very much.

321

These are the town’s secrets, and some will never be known. The town keeps them all with the ultimate poker face. The town cares for devil’s work no more than it cares for God’s or man’s. It knew darkness. And darkness was enough.

327.

‘Salem’s Lot is my town. If something is happening there, it’s real. Not philosophy.

342

Monsters in the movies are sort of fun, but the thought of them actually prowling through the night isn’t fun at all.

341

The people have not cut off the vitality which flows from their mother, the earth, with a shelf of concrete and cement. Their hands are plunged into the very waters of life. They have ripped the life from the earth, whole and beating! Is it not true?

363

They have never known hunger or want, the people of this country. It has been two generations since they knew anything close to it, and even then it was like a voice in a distant room. They think they have known sadness, but their sadness is that of a child who has spilled his ice cream on the grass at a birthday party. Thee is no . . . how is the English? . . . alternation in them. They spill each other’s blood with great vigor. Do you believe it? Do you see?

363

I dreamed of them going to houses and calling on phones and begging to be let in. Some people knew, way down deep they knew, but they let them in just the same. Because it was easier to do than to think something so bad might be real

429

I bet he’s got half the town after last night. If we wait any longer, he’ll have it all. It will go fast, now.

428

It was darker than Technicolor movie blood. Looking at it made him feel sick, but looking at Straker made him feel nothing.

446

The essential and defining characteristic of childhood is not the effortless merging of dream and reality, but only alienation. There are no words for childhood’s dark turns and exaltations. A wise child recognizes it and submits to the necessary consequences. A child who counts the cost is a child no longer.

449

The final thought in this hospital-bed train of reasoning was the hideous possibility that one’s body might not be a friend at all, but an enemy implacably dedicated to destroying the superior force that had used it and abused it ever since the disease of reason set in.

453

No one pronounced Jerusalem’s Lot dead on the morning of October 6; no one knew it was. Like the bodies of previous days, it retained every semblance of life.

474

But they say fire purifies . . . . Purification should count for something, don’t you think?

652

What are your thoughts about vampire literature?

Do you have a favorite passage from ‘Salem’s Lot? Try choosing one to imitate or lead your thinking and write something of your own. Use your surroundings of current events to inspire a plot!

Featured

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

After reading Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, I felt disillusioned about the vampire-romance plot. After engaging in the Edward Cullen fever-pitch, I realized he was actually a controlling, misogynist jerk and I lost interest in the supernatural romance genre overall.

So, I’m not sure why I decided to pick up a copy of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. In part, I think, the setting of Oxford appealed to me. I studied abroad there during the summer of 2010 as a student at Elmhurst College. I enjoyed reading about the rowers on the Thames, cobbled streets, Christ Church’s spires, and the reverent silence of All Souls. The start of the book begins in the woody interior of the majestic Bodleian Library, which I’m sure goes without saying, was my favorite site to visit.

Living my best life in Oxford (I have a pink scarf on), near the Bodleian library, with my professors and classmates, June 2010

The smell of the library always lifted my spirits — that peculiar combination of old stone, dust, woodworm, and paper made properly from rags.

Harkness 31

I identify with the protagonist, Diana Bishop, too. Diana is a scholar who loves research and study (I’m a nerd, okay? And I’m not even sorry about it). She is a top figure in her field of the history of science, and I enjoyed reading about a strong, independent woman in academics. 

I remained skeptical about this whole supernatural element throughout the first third of the book. Diana, though a practical scholar, is also a witch. She’s not just any witch, either; she’s a Bishop, a descendent of Bridget Bishop, the first woman to die in the Salem witch trials.

This irritated me a little, because Bridget Bishop was a real person who died after the powers-that-be of Salem accused her and convicted her of witchcraft. The book assumes she was, in fact, guilty of this, despite throwing shade at those who acted against witchcraft.

Nonetheless, Diana’s ancestry (her father was a descendent of John Proctor, another victim of the Salem trials, and the protagonist of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible) makes her quite powerful, indeed. However, because of the tragic death of her parents, Diana tries to bury the witch aspects of her identity. Her aunt Sarah and Sarah’s partner, Emily, attempt to encourage Diana to embrace her heritage, but Diana remains stubborn about not using her powers.

But her power finds her in the form of an elder text she uses in her research on alchemy. This sets off a chain of events that brings an old-soul vampire, Matthew Clairmont, into Diana’s life. At first, Matthew represents danger for Diana as all supernatural beings in Harkness’s universe — witches, vampires, and daemons — align themselves along deep fractures in partnership.

Nevertheless, Matthew’s persistence in learning about Diana, and her undeniable attraction to him, continuously puts them in situations together, which leads to a passionate romance.

Cue my rather dramatic eye-roll. I was not in the mood for another vampire romance in which the male vampire simply can’t rein in his controlling nature and overprotective tendencies because of his inherent vampire-ness. It’s boring to watch the male love interest control an otherwise intriguing female protagonist.

However, I think Harkness must feel the same way about this vampire trope because Matthew, despite feeling the urge to control, protect, and ultimately possess Diana, does control his urges. He finds it in himself to allow her to be herself, which ultimately leads to Diana finding her power as a witch in her own right and acting as Matthew’s savior, instead of the other way around.

Ultimately, I appreciate how this book turns the vampire-romance story on its head and makes room for a strong, intelligent, capable female protagonist. It’s a far more interesting read. I plan on reading the next book in the trilogy, The Book of Life.

Witches are very good at protecting themselves, I’ve found, with a little effort and a drop of courage.

Harkness 276

After reading the book, I enjoyed the television adaptation of it on the Sundance app (a subscription through Amazon). The show features Teresa Palmer (“Hacksaw Ridge”) as Diana Matthew Goode (“Downton Abbey”) as Matthew, and Alex Kingston (“Dr. Who”) as Aunt Sarah. There is a wealth of other terrific actors on board; the Oxford scenes are actually filmed in Oxford, which is a nice treat for those who love the city, and the plot remains mostly faithful to the book. The show is optioned for a second season, which presumably will follow the plot of The Book of Life.

I guess I better keep reading! This book makes it feel good to return to the supernatural romance genre, so why not?

Featured

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus

Have you read One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus? Well, you should. It’s her debut novel for young adults and it was the most popular read in my Honors English 9 class year when we read suspense novels in book clubs.

But I’m not here to talk about One of Us Is Lying; I’m here to talk about McManus’s sophomore novel, Two Can Keep a Secret. Since I gobbled up One of Us Is Lying, it was easy to throw Two Can Keep a Secret in my cart while on a shopping trip to Target this summer.

I read this novel around Winnebago’s Homecoming, which was perfect, because this book revolves around Homecoming.

The book revolves around Ellery and her twin brother Ezra. The pair move to the sleepy town of Echo Ridge, Vermont to live with their grandmother after their flighty actress mother checks into rehab for a pain-killer addiction back in California. Ellery is a true crime enthusiast, a passion driven by the suspicious disappearance of her mother’s — Sadie’s — twin sister, Sarah during their high school years.

Ellery: “I can feel my aunt’s absence in this town, even more than my mother’s.”

McManus 78-9

Upon arrival the twins and their grandmother witness the aftermath of a hit-and-run on the most popular, caring teacher at Echo Ridge High School, inciting the mysterious pall of the novel.

Malcom: “Welcome to life in a small town. You’re only as good as the best thing your family’s done. Or the worst.”

Ellery: “Or the worst thing that’s been done to them.”

McManus 86

Malcom Kelley’s return to Echo Ridge after a summer vacation with his mom coincides with the arrival of Ellery and Ezra. Malcom’s mom is remarried to Echo Ridge big-wig Peter Nilsson, and they now live with him and his teenage daughter, Katrin. Malcom’s parents divorced after his older brother, Declan, was suspected for murder of his girlfriend, Lacey. In fact, Declan’s subsequent move back to Echo Ridge at the beginning of the school year puts the rest of the town on edge.

Unfortunately for Malcom, Ellery catches him in two places where threatening messages referencing Lacey’s death appear in red spray paint across town.

Nevertheless, Ellery and Malcom bond over their unconventional family backgrounds:

Malcom: “we’re two sides of the same coin. Both of us are stuck in one of Echo Ridge’s unsolved mysteries, except her family lost a victim and mine has a suspect.”

McManus 86

Malcom: “We have screwed-up family histories. Morbid comes with the territory.”

McManus 220

Things come to a head when the girls nominated for Homecoming queen — Ellery, Katrin, and her friend Brooke — are threatened with more mysterious graffiti. When Brooke goes missing, Ellery cannot help herself: she applies all that she knows about true crime to help solve the case with Ezra, Malcom, and their friend Mia by her side.

“We’ve all lost our version of a princess, and none of us know why. I’m sick of being tangled up in Echo Ridge’s secrets, and of the questions that never end. I want answers. I want to help this little girl and her sister, and Melanie, and Nana. And my mother. I want to do something. For the missing girls, and the ones left behind.”

McManus 84

I think a lot of readers think this second book of McManus’s is a disappointment. A student told me that she thought it was “slow.” But, I think part of the problem is that the book — while similar in style and content to One of Us is Lying — has a very different pace. The pace is more like a slow burn of a mystery than the adrenaline-fueled One of Us is Lying.

I happened to like this about the book; it made the book last longer and gave me the opportunity to savor the characters. I felt like the pace mirrored the feel of Echo Ridge. I’m a sucker for elements of writing style that parallel the setting; I think it’s difficult to do and takes some talented writing to pull off. 

One of the features of Echo Ridge is a fight attraction called Fright Farm (formerly Murderland until it became the site of Lacey’s murder). Ellery contemplates the juxtaposition of the monster-themed carnival attractions against the real-life murder and disappearance of young women in Echo Ridge:

Ellery: “All of Fright Farm’s success is based on how much people love to be scared in a controlled environment. There’s something deeply, fundamentally satisfying about confronting a monster and escaping unscathed. Real monsters aren’t anything like that. They don’t go.”

McManus 181

The background of these characters is rich, which I think gives this book more depth than those in One of Us Is Lying. I think people like the latter so much because it revolves around the stereotypes reminiscent of those in John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club (1985). That nostalgia is fun, but it’s been done before. The characters in Two Can Keep a Secret are fresh, deep, and resonant.

McManus is deft here at drawing attention to teen issues without making the story about these issues. She shows instead of tells what it’s like for a teen to watch a parent with a drug addiction, living in a whitewashed, small town as a minority, or identifying as gay and trying to fit in to a new, less-accepting place. She includes snapshots of what it’s like to live in a blended family; since approximately 16% of kids today live in a blended family (Meleen), the representation of what that’s like — without making the story about that — helps teens relate and engage.

Malcom: “Everything’s back to normal. I don’t know. Maybe it is, or maybe we’re finally figuring out that we haven’t been normal for years and it’s time to redefine the word.”

McManus 314

The ability to include representation like this into stories that revolve around engaging, suspenseful plots helps anyone who feels like an outlier feel connected to what they read.

Malcom: “Just like that, we’re all outsiders together.”

McManus 166

Another message McManus includes that I really appreciate is her condemnation of the sentimentalization our culture puts true-crime to. Between murder podcasts and Dateline episdoes, we gulp down stories of true-crime as entertainment; this has always made me feel uncomfortable. I love that McManus explores this dichotomy through the character of Ellery. As someone true-crime obsessed, Ellery often misapplies what she’s learned through her true-crime books and shows to her own experience.

Ellery: “It’s exhausting, thinking this way. Ezra is lucky he hasn’t read as many true-crime books as I have. I can’t shut them out.”

McManus 161

Ezra reminds her,

“This is exactly what we don’t need right now, El. Wild theories that distract people from what’s really going on.”

McManus 161

It reminds me of Catherine Morland in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, who takes the Gothic novels she reads too seriously and ends up hurting the feelings of the man she loves. Ellery’s obsession likewise causes a rupture in her relationship with Malcom and even her own family. She learns to trust him when her dependence on true-crime stories backfires:

Ellery: “In that moment, I choose to believe he’s not a Kelly boy with a temper, or someone with opportunity and motive, or the quiet kind you’d never suspect. I choose to believe he’s the person he’s always shown himself to be. I choose to trust him.”

McManus 163

Malcolm himself similarly struggles with the dangers of speculation when he finds that he can’t help but suspect his own brother in the disappearances of Lacey and Brooke:

Malcom: “Ellery looks thoughtful. Like she can see into the secret corner of my brain that I try not to visit often, because it’s where my questions about what really happened between Declan and Lacey live. That corner makes me equal parts horrified and ashamed, because every once in a while, it imagines my brother losing control of his hair-trigger temper at exactly the wrong moment.”

McManus 132

Go in to Two Can Keep a Secret with an open mind; don’t compare it to McManus’s debut novel. Instead, let it stand as itself and enjoy! 

At the very least, read to the end . . . because it’s chilling

Featured

The Promise by Eva Schloss and Barbara Powers

I’m not sure why I thought it was a good idea to read three books about the Holocaust in a row. I’ll be honest — it was not easy to do. It’s an emotional subject for me and by the end of this book I craved something less tragic.

Nevertheless, I remain fascinated and energized. A lot of nonfiction that we read deals with struggle and hardship. I’m continually fascinated by the human capacity for resilience, hope, forgiveness, and persistence, so it’s no wonder that I read a lot about it.

Still, this will be my last post about a Holocaust book for a while. Stay tuned . . . I rewatched Schindler’s List recently, so that book is waiting in my TBR* pile when I find the resilience to read it.

I bought Schloss’s book because it is a book about the Holocaust geared for children. I teach young people, so I wanted to add this book to my classroom library. My students are older than the age this book is for, but I think the beauty of children’s literature is that it can take something complex — like a young girl’s experience during the Holocaust — and make it relatable for readers, even if they are getting their first drivers’ licenses, applying for the SAT or college, or registering to vote for the first time.

Eva Schloss (neé Geiringer) is the step-daughter of Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank (see my post on The Legacy of Anne Frank by Gillian Walnes Perry). Eva and her mother, Fritzi, encountered Otto during their time at Auschwitz-Birkenau. After the war and their return to Amsterdam, Eva, her mother, and Otto remained close, surviving off of the understanding they each had of their experience.

Fritzi and Otto eventually married and Otto became a second father to Eva, helping her cope with her feelings after surviving the Holocaust. As a family, they became human rights activists, promoting acceptance and peace across the globe. 

In fact, Eva — now 90 years old — continues her work as a human rights activist. She recently spoke last month in Naperville, Illinois (tickets were sold out before I even heard!). 

Additionally, my English 10 class recently read this article where Schloss intervened when high school students posted pictures and videos of themselves giving Nazi salutes on social media. She stressed the importance of Holocaust education for young people to curb these types of ignorant behaviors.

That is, no doubt, part of why she wrote The Promise. In The Promise (Lexiled at 6-8 grade), Schloss tells the story of her life before, during, and after the Holocaust. The story revolves around her and her older brother, Heinz. As the persecution that the Geiringer family faced grew, Heinz asked their father, Erik, what would happen to them if they died at the hands of the Nazis. Their father, affectionately known as “Pappy,” said:

We are part of a long chain of people. You and I are each one of the links. So are Evi, Mutti, your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and all the people we know and love, even those we don’t know. Every link is important . . . .Children, I promise you this: everything you do leaves something behind; nothing gets lost. All the good you have accomplished will continue in the lives of the people you have touched. It will make a difference to someone, somewhere, sometime, and your achievements will be carried on. Everything is connected, like a chain that cannot be broken

Schloss 64-5

Schloss’s book hinges on this promise her father made to her and her brother before the Nazis deported them to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Schloss writes extensively about how difficult it was for her to understand as a child what happened and why it happened to her. She is frank about how her harrowing experiences as a victim at the hands of the Nazis affected her worldview and her sense of faith.

Schloss makes it clear that her recovery from her time at Auschwitz and the loss of family was as difficult and agonizing as the experience itself. She recounts how she lost her faith in her god and it was up to her loved ones — her mother, Otto, her husband, her children, and her grandchildren — to help her recover her belief system:

I realized that my Jewish faith is a gift, and I would never change it. I believe that God was not responsible for the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust; that God gives us a free will and it is up to us to choose between good and evil. The Nazis chose evil and the whole world has suffered as a result

Schloss 140

Sometimes, we feel the need to shelter young people from the horrors of the world. It is an instinct rooted in our own traumas and the love we feel for our children.

But, I also believe in the free will Schloss talks about here and that our children have a right to exercise that free will. It is our responsibility to help them exercise that free will for good, not evil. By sharing stories like Eva’s, we help our young people use their freedom to help those who have their freedom taken from them.

I highly recommend this book for all of us, especially our children. If you have young people in your life who are starting to be curious about the world, buy them this book. If you teach, put this book in your classroom library (even if your students are big kids, like mine). If you have young children, prepare yourself to talk to them about the world — its darkness as well as its light. The Promise is a great place to start.

*To-be-read

Featured

Why?: Explaining the Holocaust by Peter Hayes

Today is a good day for this post — happy Veterans’ Day to all who served or currently serve our country in the military.

This is a special holiday to me because both of my grandfathers served in different branches of the military and their legacy is an important part of my identity. My father’s father, Lt. Col. Anthony Giannangeli, served in the United States’ Air Force 30th Air Division. It was his career and he reported for duty in Thailand in the 1970s. In April of 1972, a missile hit his plane — Bat 21 — and it crashed. For many years, his status was MIA; eventually, my family learned he was killed in action in the crash. There is a marvelous book by Stephen Talty called Saving Bravo that details the crash and the rescue mission of the captain, Gene Hambleton. Talty interviewed my father and my uncle for his book and provides a wonderful sense of what it was like for my grandmother and her six children to learn about the sacrifices my grandfather made for his country and family.

https://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/18378/ANTHONY-R-GIANNANGELI/
This is my Papa G. on duty in southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

My mother’s father, Robert Persinger, served as a staff sergeant in the Army’s 3rd Cavalry Reconnaissance Regiment during World War II. He passed away last November at age 95. He is my main connection to the Holocaust, because in May 1945, he led a mission into Ebensee Concentration Camp in Austria and liberated the camp. My grandfather never spoke about what he saw there for many years. The first time I remember hearing his story, I was in middle school, fresh from a field trip to the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois. From then on, my grandfather spoke publicly about his experience; he felt it was especially important to speak at schools to help young people learn and realize the lessons of the Holocaust. The Harlem Vet’s Project interviewed him several times and you can hear his story here.

https://www.rrstar.com/article/20120504/NEWS/305049933
Grandpa in his uniform, decades after serving in it. It still fit!

It was my grandfather’s legacy as a concentration camp liberator that brought me back to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center once again this past August. When my grandfather died, donations went to this museum and they commemorated my grandfather by including his name on their “Tree of Life.” My mom, sister, aunt, and I all went to see it for the first time this summer.

My grandfather’s leaf at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois

 I already wrote about one of the books I purchased from their shop, The Legacy of Anne Frank by Gillian Walnes Perry two weeks ago. 

The next book from my haul is Why?: Explaining the Holocaust by Peter Hayes. This book caught my eye because of the title. I think, when it comes to the Holocaust, many of us endlessly contemplate the “why.”

Hayes explains,

Perhaps the adjectives most frequently invoked in connection with the Holocaust are ‘unfathomable,’ ‘incomprehensible,’ and ‘inexplicable.’ These words attest to a distancing reflex, an almost instinctive recoiling in self-defense. To say that one can explain the occurrence of the Holocaust seems tantamount to normalizing it, but professing that one cannot grasp it is an assertion of the speaker’s innocence — of his or her incapacity not only to conceive of such a horror but to enact anything like it

Hayes xiii

I agree with Hayes when he says that this is a natural response but that if we don’t dig into the “why” of the Holocaust “that stance blocks the possibility of learning from the subject” (xiii).

Despite the somberness that I feel anytime I approach the Holocaust, I dug in. It wasn’t pretty — I knew it wouldn’t be. I made me feel sick . . . as it should. But, I’m glad I did. After finishing this book, I realized that understanding something horrible helps take away its oppressive power over us, and what’s left is feeling empowered to talk about it in a way that will help heal and better promote peace in our always-tense world.

The Holocaust is seemingly an insurmountable topic, but Hayes excels at breaking down the Holocaust into eight essential questions:

  1. Targets: Why the Jews?
  2. Attackers: Why the Germans?
  3. Escalation: Why Murder?
  4. Annihilation: Why This Swift and Sweeping?
  5. Victims: Why Didn’t More Jews Fight Back More Often?
  6. Homelands: Why Did Survival Rates Diverge?
  7. Onlookers: Why Such Limited Help from Outside?
  8. Aftermath: What Legacies, What Lessons?

Hayes’s response to Question 5 (Why Didn’t More Jews Fight Back More Often?) struck me as extremely eloquent. In this section he eviscerates the stance that the Jews could have done more to protect their own people — an abominable stance that re-victimizes survivors and dishonors those who lost their lives. He notes that the belief that Jewish people deserve some of the blame for what happened to their people

Underestimate[s] the forms of resistance that Jews participated in, and . . . overestimate[s] the possibilities of armed resistance or even noncooperation that were available to Jews, either upon initial contact with the Nazis or later

178

Hayes explains that,

Whether they [Jewish people] lived or died depended on two things alone: the actions of the Nazi regime and the progress of the Allied armies.

195

Hayes rightfully concludes that the responsibility belongs to the perpetrators and bystanders, not the victims. I felt empowered to continue teaching this lesson to students after reading the evidence Hayes thoroughly researched and provides in his book.

Another feature of Hayes’s book that I found empowering are the central conclusions and lessons he lays out in the eight chapter, Aftermath.

First, he outlines eight major myths about the Holocaust that, throughout the course of the book, he debunks:

  1. “that antisemitism played a primary part or decisive role in bringing Hitler to power; it did not” (327)
  2. “that Hitler planned to murder the Jews from the day he took office, if not before; as far as historians can tell, he did not” (327)
  3. “that the Allies could have done much to impede the killing once it began” (328)
  4. “that greater passive or active resistance by Jews could have reduced the death toll considerably; not realistically speaking” (328)
  5. “that popular attitudes toward Jews, rather than political structures and interests, were the principal determinants of survival; not in the aggregate” (328)
  6. “that  the Holocaust diverted resources from the German war effort and weakened it in significant ways” (328)
  7. “that the slave labor system was driven principally by greed” (329)
  8. “most of the leading perpetrators of the Holocaust escaped punishment after World War II” (329).

Through the rest of the chapter, Hayes works on debunking two more myths: 

that the Holocaust was a product of modernity and a demonstration of its dangers

329

and

the claim that it never happened .

330

I wanted to give Hayes a round of applause after he systematically tackles this last myth. My grandfather visited my very first class of freshmen to tell them about what he experienced. He ended by encouraging them to speak out against Holocaust deniers because they witnessed first hand a former Army sergeant who told them the truth. Part of my grandfather’s legacy to my family and I is that we continue telling his story to silence those deniers and to stand up against those who may imitate and subscribe to Nazi ideals and beliefs. Hayes’s dismantling of this myth helped me feel strong enough to keep at this project my grandfather left us. 

Hayes pulls together the evidence presented throughout the book into a two sets of lessons the evidence collected implies. The first set is for “minorities in the United States in general and for Jews in particular”:

  1. “Be alert but not afraid” (336)
  2. “Be self-reliant but not isolationist” (339)

The second set is for “all citizens” (339):

  1. “the Holocaust highlights the primacy of avoiding situational causes” (340)
  2. “the Holocaust illustrates the fundamental importance and difficulty of individual courage and imagination” (341)
  3. “the Holocaust testifies to the need to preserve the essential distinction between means and ends” (341).

I love the organization at the end of this book. Hayes took something dark, painful, chaotic, and overwhelming and gives back order, reason, and power to tackle hatred.

The last line of the book packs a punch. It’s the English translation of a German proverb:

Wehret den Anfängen.

Beware the beginnings

342-43

Every Veterans’ Day, I take time to reflect on the sacrifices of my grandfathers. Papa G. ultimately sacrificed his life in combat, flying over Vietnam. Grandpa didn’t sacrifice his life, but he put his mental health at risk when he trekked up the mountain to investigate a camp the villagers told him about in suspicious whispers. He sacrificed his innocence when he broke his gun over the archway to the camp and took his first step into the muddy roll call yard. He sacrificed living a life without the stench of death in his nostrils and the sight of dead and living skeletons either clawing at him in celebration or stacked against the wall in an endless sleep.

I don’t think he did this because he saw himself as a soldier. I don’t think he did this because he was an American. I know he put his well-being at risk and helped liberate that camp because he knew it was the right thing to do to stand up for human life in the face of injustice.

Veterans’ Day is an annual reminder for me that you don’t have to be in the military to do the right thing. We can all do something right now to help others. It’s my reminder that I am forever in debt to my grandfather’s and their fellow soldiers for the privileges I have and that I can do small things each day to honor their sacrifices by being kind to others, lending a hand where needed, and standing up to injustice wherever I may find it.

Holocaust survivor, Andy Sternberg, attended and spoke at my grandfather’s funeral last year. Here he is with my grandfather’s grandchildren. Together, we are my grandfather’s legacy.
Left to Right: Steven Osikowicz (31), Nina Giannangeli (31), Mr. Sternberg, Eric Persinger (21), Marissa Giannangeli (28), Jill Osikowicz (28)
Front: Daniel Persinger (25)

Happy Veterans’ Day to all who serve and currently serve. We are forever grateful to you.

Featured

The Legacy of Anne Frank by Gillian Walnes Perry

This past August, my mom, sister, aunt, and I drove out to Skokie, Illinois to visit the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. (Um, GO, by the way, if you live in Illinois. This is an amazing gem we need to take advantage of).

I was thrilled to visit their gift shop which had a wide array of books about the Holocaust, civil rights, and human justice. You bet I dropped money that day and I have two more books that I bought that day which I’d like to post about on Bago Book Talk Blog if you don’t mind indulging me with the Holocaust research streak I’ve been on since my visit to the museum.

One of the books I bought was The Legacy of Anne Frank by Gillian Walnes Perry. Anne Frank, the Jewish, teenage girl who kept a diary of her family and friends hiding in a secret annex in Amsterdam from 1942 to 1944, is one of my personal heroes. Her story fascinated me ever since I saw the play The Diary of Anne Frank (by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett) when I was twelve years old. I read her diary right after that; I related to her so much because I, too, religiously kept a diary on who’s pages I pondered the world and my place in it.

Anne graced my life again when I had the opportunity to perform  in the Goodrich and Hackett play at Pec Playhouse in Pecatonica, Illinois when I was fifteen; I played Anne’s sister, Margot. The most meaningful experience about being in this play was getting a sense for what it was like for Anne, her family, and her friends hiding in a tight space with no way out for two years. Two hours can never compare with two years — but I believe the cast and I imagined well what it was like.

Here is the scene where the Franks, van Danns, and Mr. Dussel celebrate Hanukkah, despite the threat of their discovery. (I’m still obsessed with the outfit I wore for this scene!)

The young woman who played the role of my little sister, Eli, became a wonderful friend. It was nice to go to practice everyday and share this experience with her. My troubles always seemed manageable when I compared them to Anne’s and Margot’s. Here we are in the scene where Margot helps Anne prepare for her “date” with Peter:

Our director, Michael, was fantastic! He made sure the play was as authentic as it could be, advising us how to use the correct German pronunciations of the names (did you know it’s not pronounced “Aaaannnn” but “Ah-nuh”; and Margot isn’t pronounced “Mar-go” but “Mar-goat”; Frank isn’t “Fraaaaaank” but “Frahhnk” . . . in case you were wondering). He even had the set designer build a bookcase to cover the door to the theater so that the audience immediately felt the same claustrophobia the families hiding in the annex did. He did a great job working with young people, too. Eli, Brandt (who played Peter), Amanda (Miep), and I were all still in high school when we performed this play! Here Michael is with Eli and I after a performance:

It’s no surprise, then, that I picked up The Legacy of Anne Frank at the museum. I recommend this book for any one who feels the same connection to Anne that I do. I also believe this book models excellent teaching strategies, especially for social studies and humanities teachers. 

Gillian Walnes Perry founded the Anne Frank Trust with Otto Frank, Anne’s father, as well as other stakeholders in the United Kingdom in 1990. As the CEO, Perry witnessed just how large an impact Anne Frank and her diary has on readers throughout the world, especially young people.

Perry’s book chronicles parts of Anne Frank’s life as well as people closely connected to her. Some of the chapters reflect on who Anne was as a person.

One of the things I liked best about The Legacy of Anne Frank is the point Perry makes that Anne Frank was a real person. Her life — and the Holocaust overall — is too often fictionalized. We need to be careful about fictonalizing the Holocaust; we need to listen to the stories of survivors and liberators while they are still alive to tell their stories. And even after they’ve gone, fictional representations of the Holocaust need more care and attention than other works of fiction. Writers have a major responsibility to get it right if they choose to tell a fictional story about the Holocaust. This is how I felt about Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which I read this past summer. We need to hear the true stories first and appreciate that the Holocaust was real, perpetrated by real people, and that it happened to millions of real people. As Perry put it,

“I really don’t understand why we have to fictionalize the Anne Frank story, when young people engage with it anyway . . . . To me it seems like exploitation.

Perry 237

Holocaust fiction can be dangerous, especially in the hands of Holocaust deniers and white supremacists. Even if someone makes an offhand comment or what they perceive to be an “Anne Frank joke,” we need to remember that not only was she a child, but a real human being, who — along with 6 million others — was victim to hatred. 

I truly appreciated Perry’s warnings against us letting the topic of the Holocaust become “a safe topic” (Perry 277). Perry quotes an educator, concerned that the Holocaust no longer makes the same impact:

Even just twenty years ago we were fighting tough battles to get the Holocaust taught, but now it’s so established, it’s easy

Perry 277

Perry’s portraits of Anne’s family and friends helped to flesh out the girl I met in the pages of her diary. Perry offers stories and research about Anne’s father, Otto Frank; Eva Schloss — Anne’s would-be stepsister, who survived Auschwitz; Anne’s protector, Miep Gies; and Anne’s cousin, whom she greatly admired. There is also a chapter that sifts through the theories about who betrayed the Frank family. While Perry admits that we will likely never know the truth, she offers who she believes truly betrayed them.

Anne Frank influenced many notable people who Perry describes in her book as well. She talks about the parallels between Anne and Audrey Hepburn as well as how Hepburn came to work for the Trust and spread the lessons found in Anne’s diary throughout the world. The story of Nelson Mandela reading Anne’s diary while in prison makes an appearance, too. The stories of Stephen Lawrence — a black, British teenager who died in a racially-motivated murder — and Daniel Pearl — an American journalist attacked and beheaded by terrorists in Pakistan — have eerie connections to Anne’s stories and serve as reminders about the destruction racisim and bigotry cause.

A large part of the book focuses on the educational projects the Anne Frank Trust funds throughout the world, including the impact that these educational programs have had in each place; for example: how Anne Frank’s words helped with the transition from Communism to democracy in Eastern Europe; inspired students under dictatorships in Latin America; gave hope to children who witnessed war and genocide in Bosnia; fostered gratitude in those suffering injustices in British prisons; helped foster peace in a religiously-torn Ireland; and resonated with young people in Japan, Vietnam, and India.

Finally, the book touches on the main values and goals of the trust. The trust developed the Anne Frank Declaration, which asks those who sign it to “to work towards a better world, free of bigotry, in the new millennium.” I love the way the Anne Frank Trust and its traveling museum uses peer education to engage and inspire people; I hope to use some of the techniques Perry describes in her book in my own classroom to foster empathy and understanding in my students.

To think that Anne’s voice impacts so many people makes my heart feel near bursting because I know that she wanted to be a writer. It’s tragic to think that she didn’t get to pursue this dream; but, I’m heartened that she made such an impact, nevertheless. Even more, I love that it is a young girl who made this impact.

People continue to underestimate our youth today; but, as I’ve seen across nine years of teaching, children and young adults are often the wise ones and we’d do well to listen to what they have to say. I like to wake up believing that writers as powerful as Anne sit in my classroom everyday.

Above the exit at the Illinois Holocaust museum are words from Anne:

“How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment. We can start now, start slowly changing the world.”

Anne Frank

That’s Anne’s legacy to me; she is my reminder that I can change the world now. I can’t wait for funds, convenience, or the opportune moment because everything I need to do my part is already at my disposal and it’s there for you, too. Anne had a notebook and a pen. I have a classroom and a love for the written word. 

Tell me in the comments, what do you have right now that you could use to help change the world? 

Featured

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I finished Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere a few weeks ago. I spent all last week telling Mrs. Traum and Mrs. Thompson (our school’s media specialists) that I wasn’t sure this book deserved a Bago Book Talk Blog sticker. Yep … it’s a thing now! Here’s our logo:

As I go over my notes on this book today (at Mary’s Market; honey praline coffee FOR THE WIN!) I think this book does deserve our sticker.

I may not like every part of this book or the pace (I felt it was slow), but I’m not going to forget this book any time soon. It’s unique. It challenged me to rethink how I identify as progressive and accepting.

The masterful thing about Ng’s book is how she addresses racism, entitlement, white privilege, and prejudice in a casual way. I think this is difficult to do because it means the writer has to catch all of the subtleties of a character’s actions. She has to describe everything a racist character does that the character themself would describe as “not racist” . . . “It’s just the truth! I’m just being honest, not racist!” … apparently forgetting that the truth is oftentimes racist, prejudiced, or biggoted. 

Little Fires Everywhere is about two families: the Richardsons and the Warrens. Elena and Bill Richardson proudly raise their children — Lexie, Trip, Moody, and Izzy — in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Shaker Heights, a real place as described and lived in by Ng, is a perfectly ordered (but friendly and accepting!) town where families are supposed to thrive without the urban oppression of nearby Cleveland.

Shaker Heights itself is a character of Little Fires Everywhere. I always love when the setting is alive enough to be a character and I believe Ng pulls it off. 

When nomadic artist and photographer, Mia Warren, moves to Shaker Heights with her teenage daughter, Pearl, she decides to rent a house from Elena in their neighborhood. Moody quickly befriends Pearl, introducing her to his siblings and his parents.

As Pearl becomes more a part of the Richardson’s world, Elena — a local print journalist who focuses on human interest stories — becomes curious about Mia, who is secluded and withdrawn. When Pearl tells Elena about a photograph of her mother holding her at a local museum, Elena decides to keep Mia close. She invites her to become her housekeeper.

The juxtaposition between Elena and Mia is stark: Elena believes in order and rules and plans. Mia embraces messiness, seclusion, and spontaneity. The two women immediately distrust each other, even when they are unaware of their differences.

It bothers you, doesn’t it? . . . I think you can’t imagine why anyone would choose a different life from the one you’ve got. Why anyone might want something other than a big house with a big lawn, a fancy car, a job in an office. Why anyone would choose anything different than what you’d choose . . . . It terrifies you. That you missed out on something that you gave up something you didn’t know you wanted . . . . What was it? Was it a boy? Was it a vocation? Or was it a whole life?

Mia to Elena, Ng 303

When Mia hears that Elena’s friends adopted a baby, abandoned at the fire station, she recognizes the baby as that of her friend from the Chinese restaurant she works at. Bebe, also an employee of the restaurant, had to surrender her baby to the fire station when she ran out of money. She started looking for her child as soon as she winds up back on her feet; Mia alerts Bebe to the fact that Elena’s friends — the McCullough’s — adopted Bebe’s daughter, May Ling. The McCulloughs — long struggling with infertility and miscarriages — rename the girl Miarbelle and lavish her with what they believe is a wonderful life and loving family.

What follows is a complicated legal battle that reveals the struggle of an immigrant trying to make it in a privileged, predominantly-white community that believes itself to be progressive, blissfully unaware of their privilege and the lack thereof for people of color.

All the while, Pearl becomes infatuated with the Richardsons. She adores their ordered, privileged lifestyle and imagines herself becoming a part of it. The youngest Richardson daughter, Izzy, in a parallel move, spends more time with Mia, fascinated by her artwork and philosophy. Each daughter gravitates to the mother opposite them.

When Elena learns that it is Mia who alerted Bebe to May Ling’s whereabouts, she launches an investigation into Mia’s past. Ironically, her investigation reveals just as much about Elena as it does about Mia.

Little Fires Everywhere reads like a painting. Ng paints these characters upon the intricate background of Shaker Heights. She relies heavily on description, but it’s engaging and clear, rather than vague and burdensome. The background of Shaker Heights is as interesting — if not more interesting — than the characters inside it.

The novel explores how a community believes itself to be one thing and projects that image to the outside world. But, Ng suggests, a community is never one thing. Neither is a human being.

The best example of this in the book is Elena. I perceived her as entitled, privileged, inflexible, and bigotted — which she often is. But you can’t help but empathize with her when she loses her home — and her daughter — to a little fire. (Note: That’s not really a spoiler. The novel begins with the fire and the fact that no one can find Elena’s daughter. We know she isn’t dead; she just disappears. The end of the novel suggests her whereabouts, so I won’t spoil that part!).

Ng’s point, I think, is that no one is reducible to a stereotype — not artistic Mia, not Moody the moody teenager (I see what you did there, Celeste!), not Bebe the Chinese immigrant, not the perfect suburb of Shaker Heights, and not even the privileged white lady, Elena. We can’t stamp anyone with a scarlet letter (the name Pearl is a The Scarlet Letter allusion that this English teacher truly appreciated).

I’m excited that Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine, optioned Little Fires Everywhere for an eight-episode series on Hulu, slated for some time in 2020. Witherspoon will play Elena and Kerry Washington will play Mia! Witherspoon also made Little Fires Everywhere her Hello Sunshine book club pick back in September of 2017, which is how I first heard about it.

from goodhousekeeping.com

I’ll put my own sticker on this book at school; get past the fact that the story comes through in painterly description (Mia is an artist after all) and relish the characters and setting.

I challenge readers of this book to sit in discomfort when they realize all the little areas in their own lives where casual prejudice and bias filter through. Then, like Izzy, they can set fire to the prairies of their own biases; the ashes will fertilize what grows anew.  

Just when you think everything’s gone, you find a way . . . . Like after a prairie fire. I saw one, years ago, when we were in Nebraska. It seems like the end of the world. The earth is all scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.

Mia to Izzy, Ng 295

It’s all right to be vulnerable, she had thought … It’s all right to take time and see what grows.

Mia’s wish for the Richardson family, Ng 328

You can follow Celeste Ng on Twitter: @pronounced_ing

Follow Reese Witherspoon’s book club on Instagram: @reesesbookclub         @ReeseWitherspoon   @hellosunshine

Featured

Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism by Bob Edwards

I first learned about Edward R. Morrow when I watched George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s Good Night, and Good Luck (2005). Haven’t seen it? Go watch it right now . . . it’s on Netflix! 


I am interested in the origins, especially the ethics of broadcast journalism. I worked on my high school and college newspapers and even entertained the idea of majoring in journalism, on my way to work as a print journalist. Obviously, I picked a different path, but the idea of writing and speaking as a public service still captures my imagination with the grand possibilities. Murrow’s high standards — as David Strathairn portrays them in the film — inspired me and became part of how I view modern-day politics and reporting (for better or worse).

When I started teaching The Crucible by Arthur Miller in American Studies, I used clips from Good Night, and Good Luck to illustrate the courage it took for people like Murrow to stand up to people like Joseph McCarthy during a time of fear, hysteria, and propaganda. I see Murrow’s elegance and skill in few reporters today, but greatly admire those who emulate him and hold themselves to similar high standards — Richard Engle, Christiane Amanpour, and Bob Woodward, for example.

Murrow’s biography by Bob Edwards (of NPR) was on my “to read” list for a long time. I finally bought a copy; only used copies were available on Amazon. Edwards’s book came out in 2004, but it is still one of the few titles that come up if you search for reading material on Murrow. 

The long time it took for me to finally read this book was worth it; I learned that I admire Murrow even more than I thought. Imagine the little thrill I got when I read that Murrow almost became the president of Rockford College in 1934:

“Ed had been offered the presidency of Rockford College, then a woman’s school in Illinois. The deal fell through when the good ladies of Rockford discovered Ed was only twenty-six years old and didn’t have the credentials they thought he’d had”

Edwards 24

I can’t help but wonder how different our world would be if Murrow took the job at Rockford College instead of going on to work as a radio news reporter in Europe at the beginning of World War II!

It was fitting that I read this biography in September because my Dual Credit English 12 class spent the month composing This I Believe essays, a format that Murrow himself piloted. American Studies, at the same time, learned about the parallels between the McCarthy Era and the Salem Witch Trials and we talked about how it takes people like Murrow, Arthur Miller, and John Proctor to stand up for what’s right.

The most enlightening part of this read for me was about Murrow’s radio career. I was particularly intrigued by his reporting on the Anschluss (annexation of Austria) in 1938, how he brought WWII into the homes of Americans via the radio, and how he created a new style of broadcast journalism known as the “round-up” and the “roundtable,” which Edwards describes as a spot where “correspondents in different cities held a conversation rather than take turns reading scripts” (Edwards 44). This style is on the news all the time, now; but before Murrow and his peers, the news probably sounded very dry and perpetuated the isolation Americans felt from the rest of the world at this time.

The most moving part of this book was Edward’s reprinting of Murrow’s report on his visit to the concentration camp Buchenwald in 1945.

Ironically, Murrow broadcast the rumors and information that came out about ghettos and concentration camps two-and-a-half years before allies liberated the camps:

“One is almost stunned into silence by some of the information reaching London. Some if it is months old, but it’s eyewitness stuff supported by a wealth of detail and vouched for by responsible governments . . . . millions of human beings, most of them Jews, are being gathered up with ruthless efficiency and murdered . . . a picture of mass murder and moral depravity unequalled in the history of the world”

Murrow qtd. in Edwards 64

Murrow’s broadcast about Buchenwald is worth reading in its entirety, which you can do with Edwards’s book. Murrow, of course, reported words that are difficult to find anytime we approach the subject of the Holocaust:

“Let me tell you this in the first person, for I was the least important person there, as you shall hear . . . .There were two rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood. They were think and very white. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised, though there seemed to be little flesh to bruise. Some had been shot through the head, but they bled but little. All except two were naked. I tried to count them as best as I could and arrived at the conclusion that all that was moral of more than five hundred men and boys lay there in two neat piles . . . .For most of it I have no words. Dead men are plentiful in war, but the living dead, more than twenty thousand of them in one camp. And the country round about was pleasing to the eye, and the Germans were well fed and well dressed. American trucks were rolling to the reader, filled with prisoners, soon they would be eating American rations, as much for a meal as the men at Buchenwald received in four days. If I’ve offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I’m not in the least bit sorry . . . . Many men in many tongues blessed the name of Roosevelt . . . . [they] did not know that Mr. Roosevelt would, within hours, join their comrades who had laid their lives on the scales of freedom. . . .If there be a better epitaph, history does not record it”

Murrow qtd. in Edwards 83-89

It should not surprise me the way it does, coming from the man who took on McCarthy with words just as fierce. But, it does in the way that words about the Holocaust always take me by surprise, perhaps because I still struggle to form my own words about something that happened forty-three years before I was born. 

Another fascinating part of this book is the Afterword. Here, Edwards claims that Murrow could not last in today’s world of broadcast journalism because we live in a time when broadcast media works for profit, generates entertainment for the sake of ratings, or even relies on the government for money in the case of public broadcasting, creating a conflict of interest Murrow wouldn’t stand for.

I didn’t want to agree with Edwards’s claim because in this time of fake-news and propaganda, I believe we need journalists like Murrow. I want the “breaking news” notifications on my phone to stop masquerading as earth-shattering when they’re not and for people to stop shouting at each other over the anchor on CNN or FOX. It’s unwatchable slop. 

But, I see good reporting happening, too. Anytime I see Richard Engle reporting from Syria or see some of my friends reporting on the local news, I know Murrow’s influence is at work. Edwards says of Murrow’s legacy,

“If we expect the broadcast media to inform us, educate us, and enlighten us, it’s because Edward R. Murrow led us to believe that they would”

Edwards 166

I do expect broadcast media to inform, educate, and enlighten because it’s possibly the most beautiful think about the First Amendment. The freedom of the press is extremely important, and I never want to live in a nation without it; but, with freedom comes responsibility. I know now that Murrow took this responsibility seriously, led by example, and set a magnificent precedent.

I definitely recommend this book if you want to learn more about Murrow’s legacy. My only complaints are about Edwards’s tendency to idolize Murrow (as I’m sure I’ve just done in this blog post) even though he says in the introduction that Murrow had his own set of flaws. He never mentions, for example, that Murrow carried on an affair with Winston Churchill’s daughter in-law. Additionally, Edwards slips into the passive voice far too much for my liking, especially for a journalist. If you ever took a class with me, you know how I feel about passive voice! Is it too much for me to expect the host of Morning Edition to write in the active voice?

But, as the reprinting of Murrow’s  reports and speeches in this book showed me, Murrow, too, slipped into the passive voice from time to time, so perhaps I’ll just get off the passive voice soap box now and enjoy some reporting by Richard Engle (my future husband* . . . in case anyone wanted to know).

Ms. G.’s future husband, Richard Engle

*Just kidding . . . he’s already happily married. And Collin probably wouldn’t be too happy if I went off and married Engle.

Featured

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander Series #2) by Diana Gabaldon

I started Gabaldon’s Outlander series last spring after re-reading the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and The Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series by George R.R. Martin before that. I like to have at least one series mixed in to my reading routine, especially epics like this one.

The premise of Outlander centers around Claire Randall, a former WWII nurse, who time-travels to the 1740s while on a second honeymoon with her husband, Frank, in Scotland.

In the eighteenth-century Highlands, Claire meets Jamie Fraser who takes the heroine on the time-travel, romance adventure of her life.

STARZ turned this series into a popular TV series, Outlander, the first two seasons of which are on Netflix. I think the creators of the show do an excellent job adapting the books for TV and I enjoy watching it as much as I enjoy reading the books.

*** SPOILERS FOR BOOK 2/SEASON 2 AHEAD***

One of my favorite things about this particular book is the structure. The novel begins in 1968, despite the fact that the first novel leaves off in winter of 1744. We meet Claire and Jamie’s daughter, Brianna, now a twenty-year-old woman, traveling with her mother in Inverness.

We also revisit Roger Wakefield, the young ward of the Reverend Wakefield in Outlander. Now he is a handsome professor, who takes care of his late, adopted father’s estate and effects.

The attraction Roger feels for Brianna is immediate. But, Claire’s revelation of Brianna’s father’s identity brings the story back to the center relationship between Claire and Jamie.

Claire recounts to Brianna and Roger her adventure with Jamie in France as they attempt to stop Prince Charles Stuart of Scotland from igniting a rebellion against the king of England on behalf of his father, King James III, the Jacobite pretender to the throne of Scotland and England. All the while, Claire contends with her pregnancy, which she announces to Jamie at the end of Outlander.

I always enjoy stories that take this roundabout structure with plot. I know many of my students enjoy the predictable plot diagram we learn about in English 9 — most likely because they are still learning about narrative structure. But after reading so many books, it’s refreshing to read something structured so differently.

To be honest, the political intrigue and military prowess throughout the novel loses my interest in some parts. The captivation for me is the character, Claire.

Claire fascinates me because she is a strong woman who pioneers her way as a scientist — a nurse, a healer, a doctor — at times in history when women were not supposed to be leaders in this field.

“‘I’m a doctor,’ she [Claire] explained, mouth curling a little at the look of surprise Roger hadn’t quite managed to conceal.”

Gabaldon 6

Additionally, I enjoy how Gabaldon interweaves questions and philosophy into her characters and their stories. Because Claire is the intelligent woman she is, readers get to consider the same problems she does.

The problems Claire tries to parse out in the novel invite us to think about the essence of things. This project often leaves Claire feeling stuck:

“I was helpless; powerless to move as a dragonfly in amber”

Gabaldon 339

One such problem Claire explores further in Dragonfly is the relationship between science, healing, magic, and faith. Claire is a “renaissance” woman when it comes to helping others heal. She understands science and evidence but leaves room for the miraculous and what she cannot explain — not the least of which is her trip through the stones at Craigh na Dun to the eighteenth century! She applies this to her healing in the aftermath of a brutal, sexual assault of her friend, the young, innocent Mary Hawkins. Master Raymond and Mother Hildegarde, two new characters, become Claire’s healing mentors Paris and help her understand her role as a healer and doctor.

“‘All I can do is try to help her heal.’

‘Most physicians of my acquaintance would say, “All I can do is try to heal her.” You will help her to heal? It’s interesting that you percieve the difference, madonna. I thought you would… And the pride of the physician being what it is, most often he blames himself for those that die, and congratulates himself upon the triumph of his skill for those that live. But La Dame Blanche [Claire] sees the essence of a man, and turns it in to healing — or to death. So an evil doer may well fear to look upon her face'”

Gabaldon 351-53

Another motif this novel explores is that of motherhood. There is ample room for Claire to contemplate her role as a mother in Dragonfly throughout her pregnancy and in her recollections about the birth of Brianna.

“Babies are soft. Anyone looking at them can see the tender fragile skin and know it for the rose-leaf softness that invites a finger’s touch. But when you live with them and love them, you feel the softness going inward, the round-cheeked flesh wobbly as custard, the boneless splay of the tiny hands. Their joints are melted rubber, and even when you kiss them down and seem never to find bone. Holding them against you, they melt and mold, as though they might at any moment flow back into your body. But from the very start, there is that small streak of steel within each child. That thing that says ‘I am,’ and forms the core of personality. . . . But my own core held no longer in the isolation of ‘I am,’ and I had no protection to shield me from the softness within. I no longer knew what I was or what she [Brianna] would be; only what I must do”

Gabaldon 69-70

Claire reveals in Outlander that she desperately wants a child, but is time and again unsuccessful in conceiving with her first husband, Frank. Her elation, Jamie’s, and ours is palpable throughout Dragonfly in Amber as we await the result of her pregnancy. As a result, we deeply feel it when Claire miscarries her first daughter, Faith.

I appreciate how Gabaldon includes the experience of infertility, frustrations over being childless, jealousy over others who have progeny, and the grief that comes with a miscarriage in Claire’s story because it is a common experience — for women and men. We don’t tell enough stories about these issues and our silence on the subject perpetuates the feeling of isolation we experience, even though the experience itself is ubiquitous across continents and generations.

“I knew that only Jamie himself could pull me back into the land of the living. That was why I had run from him, done all I could to keep him away, to make sure he would never come near me again. I had no wish to come back, no desire to feel again. I didn’t want to know love, only to have it ripped away once more. But it was too late. I knew that, even as I fought to hold the gray shroud around me. Fighting only hastened its dissolution; it was like grasping shreds of cloud, that vanished in cold mist between my fingers. I could feel light coming, blinding and searing”

Gabaldon 502

Finally, the musings on history interest me, too. As an American Studies teacher, the comments Frank, Claire, Roger, and the others make about the nature of history and how history gets told through primary and secondary sources intrigues me. Gabaldon excises the problems primary and secondary sources present to historians.

“We think of historical persons as something different than ourselves, sometimes halfway mythological. . . . We see them, and yet we know nothing of them. The strange hairstyles, the odd clothes — they don’t seem people that you’d know, do they? An the way so many artists painted them, the faces are all alike; pudding-faced and pale, most of them, and not a lot more you can say about them. Here and there, one stands out . . . . A Gentleman . . . But they were real people. They did much the same things you do — give or take a few small details like going to the pictures or driving down the motorway — but they cared about their children, they loved their husbands and wives . . . well, sometimes they did”

Gabaldon 190-92.

Additionally, Gabaldon asks a thought-provoking question in this novel: who’s to blame for the distortions of history? Who’s to blame for blurring the essence of what really happened? Claire, a mediator between centuries, has her response:

“‘Not the historians. No, no them. Their greatest crime is that they presume to know what happened, how things come about, when they have only what the people chose to leave behind — for the most part, they think what they were meant to think, and it’s a rare one that sees what really happened, behind the smokescreen of the artifacts and paper . . . . No, the fault lies with the artists. The writers, the singers, the tellers of tales. It’s them that take the past and re-create it to their liking. Them that could take a fool and give you back a hero, take a sot and make him a king . . . . Liars? Or Sorcerors? Do they see the bones i nthe dust of the earth, see the essence of a thing that was and clothe it in new flesh, so the plodding beast reemerges as a fabulous monster?'”

Gabaldon 907

I keep thinking about this question lately…a lot. My reading about the Holocaust dredges this question up I plan on writing more about it as I review those books. But right now . . . what do you think? Do we blame artists for the distortion of history? I’d be interested to read what you think in the comments.

The title of the novel is fitting: Dragonfly in Amber. We might feel trapped by the ineffability of these questions and problems; but they fascinate us so because they pierce through to our own essence, the core within us that is as hard and as transparent as the gift of a dragonfly in amber.

Featured

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese

I want to use this book as required reading for American Studies. An Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People sparked a brain revolution in me that I think all Americans need.

Many older folk, like me, had history classes where we learned “the Great Man” theory; in other words, our history classes told the story of the winners in history — the men who won the power to present themselves as great men who brought our nation into being.

This makes it easy to forget that Christopher Columbus discovered absolutely nothing; in actuality, entire civilizations with their own complex networks of culture existed in North and South America long before Europeans colonized “the New World.” It makes it easy to forget colonizers relied on genocidal and racist tactics that established the bloody foundations of our country.

This is the story that Dubar-Ortiz tells in An Indigenous People’s History for Young People. She tells the history of Native Americans (or, American Indians; she explains that the proper term depends on who you talk to. Best practice is to use the specific and accurate name of the people you refer to, i.e. Cherokee, Ojibwa, Anishnaabe, Sioux, Lakota, etc.).

Why read history from this angle? Because, even if we think we know the whole story … we don’t. There’s always more. There’s always another perspective. We owe it to those long-marginalized to listen to their story. What’s more, we owe it to ourselves to take in diverse perspectives so that we can better understand the truth.

I especially enjoyed this book because it is an adaptation for young people. The information included is interesting to young people. For example, the author includes a whole chapter about #NoDAPL and the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. Since this is something young people today actually lived through, it is easy for them relate and make personal connections to. Dunbar-Ortiz quotes filmmaker, Josh Fox, who perfectly explains how the conflict at Standing Rock works as a symbol for American history:

“It is as if American history is being played out in miniature. On one side, the terrible legacy of the genocidal Indian wars of Manifest Destiny, atrocity, and slaughter. On the other side, the great American tradition of equality, egalitarianism, the Bill of Rights, democracy, the fight for human rights. The collision course of history couldn’t be clearer than it is on Standing Rock. On one side, the descendants both genealogically and ideologically of General Custer and on the other side, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Wounded Knee. The ghosts of history dance in front of us on the water. The vapors of tear gas and pepper spray menacing their legacy. It is the fight for the climate, for the Bill of Rights, and for all of America standing there, shivering in the water.”

The book begins before European colonization in North and South America, establishing that Native Americans thrived here, despite European stereotypes of savagery and barbarism. Dunbar-Ortiz goes on to describe colonization as well as the ghettoization and genocide of indigenous peoples by European colonizers.

The book carefully dispels myths about stereotypes surrounding indigenous peoples and the myth that European colonizers were successful in “wiping out” native communities. Rather, Dunbar-Ortiz notes, indigenous peoples resisted the injustices Europeans inflicted. There are many stories of the persistence and resilience of indigenous communities throughout the history of the United States, all the way up to the conflict at Standing Rock in 2016.

I enjoyed the graphics, side bar notes, and definitions included in this adaptation. It helps a young reader — or, even this experienced one — better understand a complex history. It made history easier to understand.

My favorite part about this book was the actionable steps the authors recommend to young people can take to ensure a better future for all Americans. They point out that even though we are not responsible for the atrocities our ancestors committed, we are responsible for the society we live in, which is the “product of the past.”

Three of my favorite steps towards taking responsibility for a more fair society that respects indigenous peoples were:

1. If a movie/book misrepresents Native people, you can let others know

2. Follow social media conversations that use hashtags like #NativeTwitter

3. Inform yourself

These are three things we can all do to make a better America that respects Native people.

The book ends encouraging young people to learn and figure out how to live in a more peaceful and respectful future:

Pipeline construction, mining, and other forms of exploitation are sure to continue in the twenty-first century. Native people will persist in protecting their communities, their lands, their water, their sacred sites, and the wider world from the risks.

Knowing how to be in that future world is your challenge.

So, let’s take on the challenge. We got this.