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Friday Fun! (Reading Goals for 2012)

January 6, 2012 6 comments

It’s that time of year again!  Time to think about my reading goals for the year.  Reading is one of my main passions in life (I’d say the others are writing, fitness, and animal rights).  I love it, but I also like to see how I change and grow and provide myself with a bit of direction, especially now that I’m out of school. (YAY).  To that end, let’s first take a glance at my goals from January 2011 and see how I did.

Successful:

  • Read 100 books. I am so freaking HAPPY to say that I not only met this goal but surpassed it! Yay me!
  • Frugality.  I had a hard time deciding if this was actually a success or not, after all I DID purchase a kindle.  However, buying my kindle opened up a whole world of cheaper books for me, including eARCs and the land of 99cent kindle sales.  I also completely stopped using PaperBackSwap and found a library branch convenient to my lifestyle.  By some odd combination of all three of those, I’d definitely say I drastically improved in this area, so I’m counting it a success.

Unsuccessful:

  • Travel the seven continents. HAHAHAHA. This wasn’t just a fail. It was an epic fail.  My first book for this goal set me off on a Chinese lit tangent and then getting to know Amy and Kinna got me onto Nigerian lit and Ghanaian lit and then The Real Help Project got me onto black lit and um….yeah.  One thing I realized about my reading style is I get into things and read everything I can get my hands on in one fell swoop.  That means these challenges that cover large areas are just not for me.  I’m still happy with the new places I visited via my reading though.

Goals for 2012:

  • TBR Pile Challenge with Amy.  Amy was doing a challenge with her roommate, and I elbowed my way in. (Thanks, sweety!)  As of January 1st, I had 47 books that I acquired before 2011 still unread.  My goal is to finish them all this year and hopefully faster than Amy can finish hers (47 from before 2009).  Whichever one of us finishes first gets a kindle book courtesy of the other.  I obviously wanted to read these books at some point, so I may as well do so sooner rather than later!  I mean, goodness, they were on my shelf over a year without being read? Oh dear.  See the whole list here.
  • Diet for a New America Reading Project.  My passion for health and a reversion of the American health crisis and obesity epidemic led me to create this project.  Every month (we hope) on the third Saturday I’ll be reviewing a pre-determined book and hopefully at some point each month at least one fitness book or cookbook.  See the list of planned books and more details about the project here.
  • One historic nonfiction book a month.  Memoirs do not count, unless they are written by critical figures.  Biographies do count.  Preferably about: time periods I know very little about, history of non-whites in the US, socialism, animal rights, etc….
  • Read 110 books.  100 books was such a challenge that I’m just going to push myself a tiny bit, haha.
  • Finish catching up with my accepted ARCs.  This was a goal in December, and I did a pretty good job with it.  I’m almost caught up, but not quite yet.
  • Read six environmental nonfiction books.  The count last year was kind of sad for someone whose life goals involve minimalist living, positive or at least neutral impact on the environment, etc…  Vegetarian/vegan/animal liberation books do not count in this category.  Preservation of endangered species does.

Phew!  I think that’s more than enough goals for me for the year!  What do you guys think of them?  Any plans for your reading for this year?

Book Review: Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household by Thavolia Glymph (The Real Help Reading Project)

December 3, 2011 7 comments

Plantation house and slave houses.Summary:
Thavolia Glymph analyzes the power relations between black and white southern women within the plantation household in the antebellum, Civil War, and immediately post-Civil War American South utilizing primarily slave narratives/interviews and the diaries and letters of white mistresses.

Review:
I am chagrined to admit that not only is this the first time I was late on the schedule of The Real Help Reading Project I am co-hosting with Amy, but I was exactly a week late!  The lesson I have learned?  Never schedule a timely thing for a holiday weekend.  I apologize to Amy and everyone following along for making you wait, but at least it was Amy’s turn to host!  Moving right along….

Whereas Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow was extraordinarily all-encompassing, here Glymph narrows her focus severely to only relationships between black and white women in traditional plantation households in the American South.  She, alas, stops her analysis around the turn of the 20th century, only venturing into the unique relations within the domestic work realm depicted in The Help in the epilogue.  However, this book is quite valuable in that it analyzes the relationships that led up to that odd dynamic of the 1950s and 1960s.

This book covers a lot of information, but what sticks out the most to me in retrospect was how much work and effort it took to maintain a racist, unequal society.  The white mistresses had this odd, completely illogical dichotomy of viewing black women both as inferior and needing their guidance and as naturally suited to hard labor.  My eyes practically bugged out of my head when reading of white women teaching black women to do chores that supposedly white women were too weak to do….and yet they were perfectly capable of doing them well enough to show the black women what they wanted done.  Um….what?  That is the sort of illogical situation that only someone entirely committed to a belief system, no matter how wrong, will be able to come to terms with.

Similarly, the former mistresses predicted the imminent downfall of their former house slaves only to find themselves hired by these same freedwomen to sew fine dresses for them with the money they earned by working the plantation.  Yet, the former mistresses persisted in believing in the racial inferiority of the freedwomen.  Perhaps the most mind-boggling to me was the story of one former mistress who wound up teaching at a freed black school, yet even though she was with these children daily, she still believed in white supremacy.  Why this persistent need to believe you’re better than someone else?  Personally, it seems to me that the white men were so constantly judgmental of the white women that they reacted by taking it out on those society deemed inferior to them.  If black free women rose to their same status, then who would they take their frustrations out on?  This logic doesn’t free the white women of the guilt that they definitely deserve, but it does help to make sense of their ability to take on completely illogical stances.

I feel that I am repeating myself a bit with this project, but the books repeatedly demonstrate how inequality on any level acts as a poison to the whole society.  I hope that is something that we modern readers will bare in mind in our own daily lives.

Source: BookU

Buy It

Please head over to Amy’s post to discuss this book!

Reading Project: The Real Help–Helping Put “The Help” in Historical Context (Co-hosted With Amy of Amy Reads)

September 3, 2011 23 comments

What’s a Reading Project?

I am really excited to be doing my first social justice themed reading project, which is different from a reading challenge.  A reading challenge challenges you to broaden your reading horizons.  A reading project takes a topic that matters to you (or that should matter to you) and creates a reading list about that topic by people who know to help you learn about it, as well as drive discussion on such an important topic.   Now, allow me to explain the genesis of and reasons behind my first reading project.

What Led to the Project

I’ve grown to become good friends with Amy of Amy Reads over the past year, and when Kathryn Stockett’s The Help blew up in literary circles then became a movie, well, both of our ires got up.  We discussed back and forth the issues via gchat, tumblr, and twitter, sending articles and mini-rants to each other and just generally being peeved that so much of the population got swept up into something so offensive to both black and white women in 2011 for goodness sake.

Let me explain to you in my own words my problem with The Help.  Stockett is a white woman who grew up in the south with black maids.  She claims that when her maid died she felt regret at never having gotten to know her as a real person, so she decided to write this fiction book about black maids in her home state in the 1960s.  Right away, I was offended that her instinct was to write a fictional account instead of, oh I dunno, maybe making an effort to fight racism by befriending black people?

For those who don’t know, The Help is about a college educated white woman who comes home and interviews the black maids in her town and publishes their stories.  I cannot really wrap my mind around the thought that Stockett thought of doing a project like this, but instead of being an editor of a collection of memoirs and real-life scenarios by black domestic workers she chose to fictionalize the whole process.

This leads me to one of my largest points.  The Help is Stockett living in a fantasy land version of history.  One of the first things you learn as a history major is to NOT romanticize the past.  You have to get up close and personal with how ugly it truly was.  Shows like Leave It To Beaver completely leave out real issues like racism, classism, sexism, etc…  This is what Stockett is repeating.  She regrets her relationship with her own black maid, so she writes a truly mary-sue style book wherein a college educated white woman gets to know the black female domestic workers and comes to their aid.  This isn’t reality.  This isn’t a harmless feel-good book/movie.  It’s Stockett’s fantasy method of dealing with the racism she grew up with.  Why not instead have written a book about a white woman who goes to college in the north and comes to regret the racism she was raised with?  Who confronts the fact that she spent more time being cared for by a black woman than her own mother?  That would have been real.  That would have been something respectful to talk about.  Instead, though, she chose to write a fantasy version of the 1960s American South where the racism really isn’t so bad and a white female activist isn’t put into any danger by her activism.

The whole thing is offensive.  It’s offensive to black and white women.  It’s offensive to black domestic workers of the past and present.  It’s offensive to white women who faced real danger and estrangement from their families protesting racism.  It’s offensive to the black people who stood up for themselves and fought racism without any white people coming along and telling them they should.  And yet people are happily taking the blue pill and revising history.

Thankfully, not everyone is doing that.  Slowly Amy and I started to see similar reactions to our own throughout the web.  Here are just a few examples:

Indeed, with regard to the white children for whom they cared, black women often felt levels of “ambiguity and complexity” with which our “cowardly nation” is uncomfortable. Yes, my grandmother had a type of love for the children for whom she cared, but I knew it was not the same love she had for us.  (Shakesville)

The Help is billed as inspirational, charming and heart warming. That’s true if your heart is warmed by narrow, condescending, mostly racist depictions of black people in 1960s Mississippi, overly sympathetic depictions of the white women who employed the help, the excessive, inaccurate use of dialect, and the glaring omissions with regards to the stirring Civil Rights Movement in which, as Martha Southgate points out, in Entertainment Weekly, “…white people were the help,” and where “the architects, visionaries, prime movers, and most of the on-the-ground laborers of the civil rights movement were African-American.” The Help, I have decided, is science fiction, creating an alternate universe to the one we live in.  (Roxanne Gay)

And indeed, the stories of black domestic workers during the Civil Rights Movement are compelling narratives that deserve to be told. But by telling them through the lens of the benevolent white onlooker (Emma Stone’s “Skeeter” in The Help, who records the stories of the maids), it dilutes the message and impact. The black women who struggled during that time are strong enough to stand on their own. They don’t need an interpreter to serve as a buffer between them and the audience, to make their experiences more palatable for today’s viewers.
  (Kimberley Engonmwan)

It’s frustrating because in these narratives—written by privileged Whites—Black people are always passive. Things are done to them or for them, but they are never the agents of their own liberation. (And sorry, but no, telling the Nice White Lady about your shitty boss isn’t being an agent of your own liberation—not when Black women were actually organizing against Jim Crow, segregation, lynchings and violence, and the intimidation of Black voters.)  (Feministe)

What really pushed it over the edge for me, though, and got me going from stewing to activisting (that is a word because I say so) was when someone tweeted a link to the American Black Women Historian’s response to The Help that is not only eloquently put, but also includes a suggested reading list at the end.  The reading list got my wheels turning and next thing I knew I was emailing Amy to suggest we do something with that list.

What the Project Is

There are 10 books on the suggested reading list, 5 fiction and 5 nonfiction.  For the next five months we will be hosting a project to read one fiction and one nonfiction book and discuss the content and issues raised.  One blogger will host each book.  For the first month, Amy will be hosting the nonfiction book, and I will be hosting the fiction book.  Other bloggers with an interest in the project are welcome to host! Just email me and (opinionsofawolf [at] gmail [dot] com) and Amy (amy.mckie [at] gmail [dot] com) to let us know your interest and what book you might like to host the discussion for.

The fiction book will be discussed on the second Saturday of the month, and the nonfiction book will be discussed on the fourth Saturday of the month.  The first Saturday of the month will wrap-up the previous month’s discussions and announce the next two books.

So next Saturday I will be discussing A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight.  Please come join in the discussion!  You don’t have to read the book to engage in the discussion, but I highly encourage you to do so.

On the 24th, Amy will be discussing Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women , Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Presentby Jacqueline Jones.

We encourage you to join in with us on the project to stop letting people revise history.  Get to know the facts behind the history of black domestic workers in the United States and read fictionalized accounts of the experiences written black writers, all recommended by educated historians.

Books of the Project

Fiction:
Like One of The Family: Conversations from a Domestic’s Life
, Alice Childress
The Book of Night Women
by Marlon James
Blanche on the Lam
 by Barbara Neeley
The Street
by Ann Petry 
A Million Nightingales
 by Susan Straight

Non-Fiction:
Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household 
by Thavolia Glymph
To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War
by Tera Hunter
Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women , Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present
by Jacqueline Jones
Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics and the Great Migration by Elizabeth Clark-Lewis
Coming of Age in Mississippi
by Anne Moody

Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees (BAND): July Discussion: Favorite Type of Nonfiction

Hi guys!  So the lovely Amy (of Amy Reads) let me know of a new organization of bloggers who love to read nonfiction–Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees.  The group has a tumblr, and basically the various members will post links to their reviews of nonfiction books as well as participate in themed discussions once a month.  You all know that I definitely partake in nonfiction periodically, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be involved!

This month’s topic is our favorite type of nonfiction.  I’d be hard-pressed to choose just one, so I’m going to cheat a bit and talk about, well, three of them.

First, the type of nonfiction that I continued to read even when working full-time and attending grad school at night was memoirs.  Memoirs hold a special allure for me.  Nothing connects me to people from different walks of life than mine quite like reading their first-hand account of their own life.  I especially love memoirs by people who suffer from mental illnesses or have survived abusive situations.  Memoirs simply never fail to touch me, even if I disagree with the author on a lot of points.  It is truly astounding how different and yet the same we all are.

Second, I love books on health for the layman, particularly books on vegetarianism and veganism.  I have a whole pile of tbr books just waiting for me about the health crisis in the US, such as Diet for a New America and Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.  Knowledge is power, and we Americans certainly need to take charge of our health.

Finally, I was a history major in undergrad, and history books still appeal to me.  Currently I am reading a biography on Heinrich Himmler (the head of the Gestapo).  I particularly love history books on Native Americans, westward expansion, the American Revolution, Australia, China, Japan, and WWII.

So that’s the types of nonfiction I love! What about you, my lovely readers?