Calculating the Worth of Human Lives

Along the same lines as my earlier thoughts about Howard Zinn, I have this to say about a paragraph in the introduction to my textbook (the Norton Anthology of American Literature (shorter ninth edition)). “The Civil War transformed the lives of the four million African Americans who obtained their freedom from slavery, but its costs…

Rethinking Howard Zinn

While reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power a couple years ago, I came across some information that required consideration. In the book Coates addresses some remarks made by Howard Zinn regarding the Civil War, which Coates had written about for The Atlantic. These are Zinn’s comments, made a few months before he…

Wrapping Up Summer Reading (Mini Reviews)

The Door, by Magda Szabó Three and a half stars, read in August 2018. The story of a strange, dysfunctional relationship between two strange women who are both uniquely intimate with and completely closed off to each other. I found it difficult at times, how deeply (and pretty frequently) they hurt each other, but the exploration…

A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism, by Slavenka Drakulić

Three and a half stars, read in August 2018. Though I don’t know what the author’s intent was for her readers, I wish I’d had more background knowledge of how communism and socialism were implemented throughout Central Europe before reading this book. The format—eight fables, each told by an animal from a different country—makes for…

Beware of Pity, by Stefan Zweig

Three and a half stars, read in July and August 2018. This is one of those books in which perfect strangers sit down to tell each other their—or other people’s—life stories. Like Mr. Lockwood in Wuthering Heights, the narrator we first meet turns out to be nothing more than the impetus for one such story, that…

Will Everyone Complaining About “Identity Politics” Please Shut Up

I don’t understand how white intellectuals are so dense on the subject of “identity politics.” Sam Harris was the first to frustrate me (he’s done it again recently), and a little while ago I read this whole piece at Brain Pickings on the tragedy of “imprisoning ourselves in the fractal infinity of our ever-subdividing identities,…

We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Five stars, read in November 2017. This book covers the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. For each year, there is an article Coates wrote for The Atlantic, preceded by an essay (“a sort of extended blog post,” I think is how he describes it) in which he looks back on his own work and assesses…

And Marian Was Wounded Sore

Written in January 2014. A few years ago I was watching Robin Hood with my family, the 2010 version with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. During that scene at the end where Marian joins the battle on the beach, I heard my dad—ever the selective movie critic—say something about how of course, they never would…

The Origin of Others, by Toni Morrison

Four stars, read in December 2017. When I think back on this book, the anecdote I remember is the one Morrison shares about coming across a woman near the fence on her property. The scene of their meeting is peaceful and friendly (because fences are “where the most interesting things always happen”), and Morrison’s thoughts…

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

Four stars, read from October to November 2017. I decided to read this book right now because of some TV show we were watching recently, and I’m hoping that by the end of this post I’ll be able to remember what it was. A character must have made a reference to the opening lines of…

An Autobiography, by Angela Davis

Five stars, read in April 2017. Yes, once again a post has taken me this long to write. For years I have been meaning to find out more about Angela Davis, and as so often happens, now that I’ve finally met her books I cannot believe it took me so long—or that in all my reading, she’s…

Books for People Who Wonder Why Everything Is So Fucked Up

Because that’s what I’ve been reading for several years now, but this year, it’s almost all I can read. Rather than explain in advance, because I am on the verge of developing carpal tunnel after a week and a half spent cataloging Vietnamese books for the library, I will just put this random collection here—if you’re wondering…

The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin

Five stars, read in June 2017. First lesson learned from listening to James Baldwin on audio: I cannot listen to James Baldwin on audio. Jesse Martin’s narration is excellent (I knew I recognized his voice but had to look him up to learn that what I know him from is Rent), but James Baldwin is…

Women, Race and Class, by Angela Davis

Five stars, read in March 2017. I can’t believe how readable this book is, considering how dense it also is in historical detail. The research that went into it must be astounding, but it flows like a conversation with a (really well-informed) friend. Along with many subjects I am familiar with, I was absolutely fascinated by…

Coretta: The Story of Coretta Scott King, by Octavia Vivian

Four stars, read in March 2012. I wrote this review back then, on my old blog, and have meant to repost it here. Now the timing is even more perfect, not just because of Black History Month, but because her name is in the news since Elizabeth Warren was punished for reading her words against Jeff…

Black History Month

I took an online course about the Civil War from Eric Foner at Columbia, and what he had to say about abolitionists was the most accurate thing I’ve ever heard on the subject. I’m not totally sure whether it’s okay to quote him directly, but this was the gist of it: We might almost say…

For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Angela Davis. Coretta Scott King. Fannie Lou Hamer. Malcolm X. Shirley Chisholm. Booker T. Washington. Frederick Douglass. Colia Lafayette Clark. Ruby Bridges. Daisy Bates. Maya Angelou. Amelia Boynton Robinson. Stokely Carmichael. Harriet Tubman. Septima Poinsette Clark. John Lewis. James Farmer. Ida B. Wells. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sheyann Webb. Diane Nash. Rosa Parks. Jesse Jackson….

Images and Issues of Women in the Twentieth Century

Four stars, read in April/May 2012. They look like your average bland textbook, but I loved these books by Catherine Gourley (nonfiction writer of social history, national director of Letters About Literature and principal curriculum writer for The Story of Movies, a visual literacy initiative of The Film Foundation, Los Angeles and New York City)….

March, by John Robert Lewis

Five stars for the series, read in February 2015 (volume three in 2016 when it was released; review updated in 2017 to add relevant links). This series is a spectacular, detailed personal account of a brilliant period in our recent history. It’s the story of the civil rights movement as seen by Congressman John Lewis,…