Fiction

There There, by Tommy Orange

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Some of my favorite quotes . . .

“What we’ve seen is full of the kids of stereotypes that are the reason no one is interested in the Native Story in general, it’s too sad, so sad it can’t even be entertaining, but more importantly because of the way it’s been portrayed, it looks pathetic, and we perpetuate that, but no, fuck that, excuse my language, but it makes me mad, because the whole picture is not pathetic, and the individual people and stories that you come across are not pathetic or weak or in need of pity, and there is real passion there, and rage . . .” (pg 40).

“{Teddy Roosevelt} was hunting bear one time, but then found this real scraggly old hungry bear, and he refused to shoot it. Then in the newspapers, there was a comic about the hunting story that made it seem like Mr. Roosevelt was merciful, a real nature lover, that kinda thing. Then they made the little stuffed bear and named it Teddy’s Bear. Teddy’s Bear became teddy bear. What they didn’t say was that he slit the old bear’s throat. It’s that kind of mercy they don’t want you to know about.

And how do you know about any of this?

You gotta know about the history of your people. How you got to be here, that’s all based on what people done to get your here. Us bears, you Indians, we been through a lot. They tried to kill us. But then when you hear them tell it, they make history seem like on big heroic adventure across an empty forest. There were bears and Indians all over the place. Sister, they slit all our throats” (pg 51).

“We need to be about what we’re always saying we’re about” (pg 105).

“Some of us got this feeling stuck inside, all the time, like we’ve done something wrong. Like we ourselves are something wrong. Like who we are deep inside, that thing we want to name but can’t, it’s like we’re afraid we’ll be punished for it. So we hide. We drink alcohol because it helps us feel like we can be ourselves and not be afraid. But we punish ourselves with it. The thing we most don’t want has a way of landing right on top of use” (pg 185).

“We all fuck up. It’s how we come back from it that matters” (pg 186).

“You feel a rush of sadness for your mom and her failed Christianity, for your failed family. How everyone lives in different states now. How you never see them. How you spend so much time alone. You want to cry and feel you might but know you can’t, that you shouldn’t. Crying ruins you. You gave it up long ago. But the thoughts keep coming about your mom . . .” (pg 222).

For more one . . .

Reading Log

Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

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I haven’t read a book like this before - always thought it too elementary, but I did enjoy this reading. If nothing else, as a change of scenery.

I was asked to read it for another teacher who wanted some input on how to make it more relatable to her small-town American kids. The best answer I can come up with is that it isn’t all that different from Americans seeking their own revolution. We just didn’t have bombs, planes, or media. So that’s what I would do, compare it to the American revolution so the kids see these often times very stereotyped countries as more similar than they are different: people wanting freedom of choice, ability to live and provide, and make a difference.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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I once recommended the book, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy because it was such a powerful story and I wanted someone to help me process through it. I was told the book was too harsh, to graphic, and not a "good Christian book." I remember being so frustrated because I loved it and felt it an extremely important book. And I just couldn't figure out why.

In later years it became clear that the reason I love that book was because it showed an element of life, a side of life, I had never known, experienced, or seen portrayed. It was raw and authentic, it was real, and it captivated me. 

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is much the same. This is my second novel by Adichie and, like her other work, Half of a Yellow Sun, I couldn't put it down. Not only are Adichie's character extremely relatable (even when they aren't), they are beautiful and flawed. They hope and dream, they're destructive, and they portray a reality that many white authors fail to capture. And I just simply love it.

One of the main components of the novel is hair. It's a powerful symbol in the book - just as it is for life as well - that embodies and highlights the differences of race. Throughout the novel, whenever the distinction of hair is raised, I thought of this documentary by Chris Rock.

When Chris Rocks daughter, Lola, came up to him crying and asked, Daddy, how come I don't have good hair? the bewildered comic committed himself to search the ends of the earth and the depths of black culture to find out who had put that question into his little girl's head!

I haven't recommended this book to anyone in my family, but I have shared and gifted it to many of my friends, telling them all that, "It is one of my favorite books of the year!" Because it is.

 

For more on . . .

Reading Log 2017  :  Reading Log 2018

Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

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My friend described it as terrifying, and I wouldn't disagree. 

Last year, around this time, I read Silence by Shusaku Endo and found it to be one of the most challenging and favorites of the year. I don't think I will say the same for The Handmaid's Tale, but for many reasons, they strike me as fairly similar, but also radically different.

If Silence is a challenging of the nuts and bolts of truth, The Handmaid's Tale questions the structure altogether, painting a pretty intense and disturbing picture in the process.

Specifically, the role and power and abuse of religion.

Like the kind of power Jesus has, in Siberia.

For me, it's almost easy to watch this and point out the weirdos, the brainwashed, and the "holy shit you can't be serious!" individuals. But then I found myself wondering, if Jesus of Nazareth were alive today, or if Vice News were around then, wouldn't the locals and surrounding communities see Him in much the same way?

Maybe. Probably. 

Because the followers of Jesus of Siberia speak much the same as those who follow Jesus of Nazareth. So what makes them sound so crazy?

(Narrator) Rocco Castoro: "Is there anything, perhaps, you disagree with here, with the teaching?"

(Follower) Tamriko Dgebuadze: "No, no, no, no."

Because, "Disagreeing with Vissarion's teachings is rare." And somewhat terrifying. 

The girls at the local school learn from "The Teacher" how to, live in peace with each other, how to behave with a man, and learn that "man is a creator", "master", because man "must build a house and comprehend masculine professions." 

And there's no other option. Because a woman taking on "leadership positions" are taking man's responsibilities, which will only lead to disharmony. If she rejects these rules, she puts her health at risk and the "harmony will punish her with a woman'd disease."

This is what makes The Handmaid's Tale so terrifying. Because it isn't that far off, it isn't that impossible. It could be right around the corner. 

 

A few favorite quotes:

But remember that forgiveness too is power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest (pg 133).

When guilt and shame weigh heavy upon the shoulders, we will do most anything to rid ourselves of it, or die trying. 

 

Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn't really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn't about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it's about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it (pg 133).

Like molesting woman, like speaking the unthinkable towards men and woman of another color and country, like infidelity, dishonesty, and bigotry. Yet, given a muligan and allowed to continue, without ever having to make amends or take responsibility. 

Now that's power, The Handmaid's Tale sort of power. A God-like power. 

A terrifying sort of power.

 

Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse, for some (pg 211).

More to come on this later. But for now . . . WoW. I'll be soaking on this for a long while.

 

People will do anything rather than admit that their lives have no meaning. No use, that is. No plot (pg 215).

Even follow bogus religions, ideas, philosophies, or lies. Because it lets us sleep at night and wake in the morning. Because it gives us hope. Even if it is false, and empty.

 

The Handmaid's Tale is now a Hulu special. If I can stomach to watch it, it will only be to serve as a reminder and a caution. Because truly, this scares the shit out of me.

Because truly, it could be in our future.