Twelve Years a Slave

So I know it’s been just a few moments, er, months, since I’ve posted on my poor neglected blog. I needed something to get me writing again, and Aarti’s #Diversiverse event is just the thing. Basically, this is a two week event to get people reading and blogging about diverse books. What does that mean? Here’s Aarti’s take:

Reading diversely is important because we live in a global world.  Period.  If you read books only by white authors, you are limiting yourself to less than 30% of the world’s experience of race and culture.  If you read books only by Christian authors, you are limiting yourself to only about 33% of the world’s experience of theology.  If you read books only by authors in developed countries, you are limiting yourself to a very privileged view of what the world has to offer you.  If you read books that focus only on Western thought, history, and philosophy, you are missing out on many rich and varied traditions and worldviews that have informed and continue to enrich the way we view the world today.”

I tend to read diversely, and I want to make sure I’m blogging about more underrepresented books and authors. It’s important to me, and it’s one of the reasons I originally started this blog.

Without further ado, my first review for #Diversiverse:

Twelve Years a Slave
Solomon Northrup

Book cover for Twelve Years a Slave showing a drawing of a slave man sitting on a wooden box

This slave narrative has recently come to popular attention through the movie based on it. My nerdy, bookish self decided to read the book, of course.

It is a compelling story of a young free black man kidnapped from New York and sold into slavery. Solomon Northrup is fortunate in some ways  – he is in relatively good health, he’s literate, he has a violin that he can play for some money. These assets are a help to him as he survices his long, arduous ordeal. On the other hand, he is wholly unaccustomed to being enslaved, and does not always know right away how a slave is to act. He endures an incredible beating early in his captivity when a slave dealer  hears him talking about being entitled to his freedom.

Northrup recounts the names and biographical details of many of the people he encounters in his twelve years of bondage. For many of his fellow slaves, his tell is likely the only record of who they are as human beings, not just notations in a plantation’s accounting ledger or a slave ship’s manifest.

Want more like this? Try:

  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs. If you were interested in Patsy from Twelve Years a Slave, this narrative could give you more insight about what her story may have been like.
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison. Fiction, but explores the lengths to which a person might go to avoid being wrenched away from their freedom, back to bondage.
  • The Hanging of Angelique, Afua Cooper. Canada was not the idyllic refuge from slavery my high school history class told me it was.

Cookbooks and Christmas

This afternoon I started making a list of people I need to buy Christmas presents for along with some gift ideas. I still can’t believe it’s essentially the middle of November. It feels like Christmas was all of five seconds ago. Thinking about this made me remember one of my favorite presents from last year, Heidi Swanson’s cookbook, Super Natural Every Day. And that I’ve only made one recipe out of it this entire year.

Those quinoa cakes were really, really good. I kinda love quinoa.

So, I’m looking through the book for some recipes that I am going to make in the next couple of weeks. The cover recipe, a dish of white beans and cabbage, looks good. The other recipe I’m planning on making is with roasted broccoli and roasted fingerling potatoes.

20131110-201331.jpgSee? Looks delicious!

For my husband…

…who, at 8:41 tonight, made me take him home to go to bed.

A History of the World in Six Glasses
Tom Standage

I read this book back when I was teaching. It’s a great overview of the broad strokes of world history, arranged by the drink Standage identified as the defining one of the time.

Although my husband is usually a big fan of drink number one, beer, tonight it was number two, wine, that did him in. Though I doubt early wine producers were as picky as he can be. Of course, when you’re well into your second bottle, what does quality even mean anymore?

If you want a primer into overarching trends, and maybe a prediction or two for the future, take a look at this book. Very readable, and you might learn a thing or two.


I was home reading

20131101-113234.jpg rather than worrying about writing a writ of habeas corpus.

Speaking of Lies My Teacher Told Me, have any of you read this? Good stuff so far! I wish I’d had it back when I was actually teaching high school.

This is day 1 of blogging every day for November. Have to get back on track after last month’s dearth of posts.

Classics Club Question of the Month

Book cover for Maya Angelou's I Kniw Why the Caged Bird SingsThis month, The Classics Club asks its members

What classic book has changed your view on life, social mores, political views, or religion?

I’ve read a lot of books, and many of them have changed the way I think about things. That said, when I looked back at some of the classics I’ve read, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings jumped out at me. This is the first of Angelou’s memoirs, where she talks about growing up and all the struggles she faced. There is a lot that this book showed me. The item that really struck me, though, was not directly about Angelou. It was about her brother, Bailey. I think it was because this was so much a book about Maya as a young girl, and the problems and abuse she faced, but she was still able to see when things were done wrong to others, that was what made it so powerful.

Angelou writes about how black boys were allowed to be successful, but only in very limited ways. If her brother wanted to grow up and be a football star – fine. If he wanted to be a pharmacist or a lawyer or an optician – no way.

I can imagine in my head someone looking like a chubby Dwight Eisenhower a middle aged white man, bald headed, with a big grin on his face, dressed in a seersucker suit, up on stage in front of a black high school graduation, feeding the young people and their families this line of garbage. And expecting them to be grateful.

To think that there are still people today that see other groups as less-than, that truly believes they are not capable of being as perfectly flawed as anyone else, that they should be happy with inching towards tolerance by the majority, still makes me ill.

This book is one piece of my history that made me into the person I am today.


The Narrative of Sojourner Truth

Book cover for The Narrative of Sojourner TruthThe Narrative of Sojourner Truth
Olive Gilbert & Sojourner Truth

The Narrative of Sojourner Truth is a slave narrative that I’ve been wanting to read for quite awhile. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

Sojourner Truth is known for being a powerful speaker, a committed activist advocating for the abolition of slavery and women’s rights. Her famed 1851 “Ain’t I a Woman” speech is an early example of intersectional thought.

However, her Narrative doesn’t talk about any of this. It gives her background, tells of how she was born into slavery, ran away, and then was “offically”  freed when New York abolished slavery. The book talks about her travelling around as a preacher, sharing her version of Christianity, which was aquired through her own thoughts on the gospel. She is made out to be quite an original thinker, and very intelligent. I just was very surprised that there was no discussion about her speeches besides the religious ones.

If I think about the purpose of this book, perhaps it makes some sense. Gilbert was trying to raise money from the publication to support Truth in her later years. She had worked and travelled for years, putting nothing aside, taking the bare minimum in pay, trusting that God would provide for her. (I, personally, would think that people offering to pay for her services was God providing, but then, that’s just me.) In any case, perhaps Gilbert was trying to avoid Truth’s more controversial views to appeal to a wider audience. I don’t know.

I also wish there had been more from Truth and less from Gilbert. Sojourner Truth is famous for her activism but also for her oration. Did Gilbert feel that she had to put a buffer between Truth and her readers? I don’t know the thinking behind the decisions; all I know is they left me feeling a bit cold.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t read the book. It’s pretty short and simple, and it is  still helpful to get a more fuller picture of who Sojourner Truth was.

Want more like this? Try:

  • Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Incredibly powerful slave narrative. (my review)
  • Frederick Douglass, Narrative Life of Frederick Dougalss, an American Slave. Probably the most fanmous slave narrative written. (my review)
  • Briton Hammon, Narrative of the Uncommon Suffering and Surprising Deliverance of Briton Hammon. Generally considered the first slave narrative. I haven’t read this one yet. Read it and let me know what you think!

Medium Raw

Medium RawMedium Raw
Anthony Bourdain

Oh, Anthony. You’ve been growing up since your Kitchen Confidential days, certainly. I love that you are more contemplative, more thoughtful. You seem cognizant of gender inequalities in a way you didn’t before you had a daughter (at least that I never saw this before).  You continue to point out that the people who help feed us, who do back breaking work in America’s kitchens, are so often people vilified in the media and told to “go home.” You recognize that the Ecuadorian filleting fish will be treated differently than the Irishman pouring your beer, although their immigration status is the same.

You recognize that hard work is not enough, that you were tremendously lucky. “And luck is not a business model.”

Still, the targets of your most vicious attacks are often women. Alice Waters, Sandra Lee, Paula Deen. (I am NOT, under any circumstances, defending Paula Deen’s recent horror show. Bourdain’s attacks predate any of that.) And that just makes me sad. And disappointed. And hopeful that you will continue to grow.
I’m not saying that I hope Bourdain starts attacking more men. Instead, I hope that he will focus on attacking hypocrisy, on attacking issues. I’m sure he is smart enough to know the difference.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by BethFishReads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.
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Letters from Black America

Letters from Black AmericaLetters from Black America
Pamela Newkirk, Editor

This book. I wish I had had it when I was teaching history to high schoolers. I tried to use primary sources whenever possible, especially in my AP class.

It is arranged into sections by theme, and within each theme the letters are in chronological order. Some of the letters are from everyday, non-famous people. Others are from well known names in history.

There’s a letter from James Henry Gooding, a corporal in the Massachusetts infantry, to President Lincoln protesting the Militia Act of July 1862, which set separate, unequal wages for white and black soldiers.

Canute Frankson writes to “Dearest” on his birthday, from an outpost in Spain where he was fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

These men show that African American were not passive recipients of rights generously bestowed upon them by the whites in power. Often that’s the tone of Civil rights narratives. Here we see that they fought not only for themselves, but for those they saw engaged in similar struggle.

My favorite letters were between Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. There is such love, respect, and affection between them. And of course, they are both wonderful writers.

Bottom line: read this.

The New Jim Crow (more thoughts)

The New Jim Crow, by Michelle AlexanderThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Michelle Alexander

A couple months ago I posted some initial thoughts about Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. I’ve been meaning to post more of a review that looked in some detail about her arguments. Of course, now I can’t find my notes.

Listen, the statistics she quotes are out there. Mass incarceration is a huge problem in this country. More black men are in prison today than were in slavery in 1850. Women of color are being incarcerated at rapidly expanding rates. Read the book. It will tell you more facts than you’ll ever want to know.

Let me say, again, I agree in large part with Alexander. Still, there was that lingering thought in the back of my mind – Well, the system might be unfair, and cops certainly aren’t always honest, but at the end of the day most people convicted of a crime chose to smoke weed/crack/hold something they shouldn’t have/etc. 

But what really spoke to me was how she points out that yes, Mr. X may have chosen to smoke weed. But he did not choose to become a criminal. The institutional criminal justice system chose to make him a criminal. The system chose who to paint as a drug user, who to convince the public to be afraid of, who to have the police monitor as closely as they do, who to ultimately condemn, label, and ostracize.

I’d wager to say that everyone reading this has committed a criminal act. But you don’t become a criminal until our system says you are. And that’s what we need to remember.

DNF: Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife midwife
Jennifer Worth
Audio book narrated by Nicola Barber

I first heard about this book a year or more ago, and was immediately interested. Young women in London in the 1950s pursuing a medical career? What’s not to love?

Ok, here’s the thing. I could not finish this book, or really read much of it at all. It boils down to me feeling lightheaded when listening to the description of a woman going into labor.

There’s a reason that I didn’t go to medical school, as fascinating as the field is. There’s a reason (well, many reasons) I don’t want kids. Apparently I forgot about those things as I was swept up in the idea of this book.

Maybe if I’d tried the print version I’d have had more success. I’d be able to skim over the more swoon-inducing portions. But since I was listening to the audio version, and since I usually do that in my car, I figured it was safer for everyone if I called this one quits.

Bottom line: not for me, but may work much better for those with a stronger constitution 🙂

P.S. I’ll be out of town for the next week or so. Catch everyone when I return!