The teacher did his best to manage the sixth-grade class of 40 students but was unable to avert frequent periods of chaos. As a student, I kept a book in my desk, reading to escape the turmoil and thus discovered the joy of reading. I continue as an adult to read for the same reason as well as to feed my curiosity about the world. After forcing myself to finish Bleak House by Dickens in college, however, I refuse to plod through books that don’t capture my interest or are poorly written. (Sidebar: for the most part I enjoyed Dickens.) For me, the style is as important as the topic, character, and plot, whether fiction or nonfiction, and although astounded at how many poorly written books get published, I am rewarded with the many excellent books that are available. Digital downloads from my local library keep me well-supplied with occasional purchases online.
A friend recently invited me to a book discussion via Zoom in response to the upswing in racial unrest. Waking Up White by Debby Irving speaks to my 1950’s upbringing and ignorance. Although my parents and family did not teach racial discrimination, it was impossible to avoid internalizing prejudice conveyed daily in the news. Learning about the depth of white privilege I enjoy has been eye-opening.
Armed with tools following the book discussion, I approached an African-American male activist displaying posters on a Chicago street corner. Sorry, she is wearing a dress and heels. Oops, male voice. Gotta love the city!
After a short greeting, I asked him to tell me about his posters. He asked which of the dozen signs I was interested in, but I allowed him to choose. Rather than an angry hate-filled tirade, he shared his purpose, his life, his hopes. His optimism and insight were refreshing. His views mirrored mine. Why, I wondered later, would I expect otherwise? I assured him of the desires of myself and others for equity. If there had been a coffee shop nearby, I would have invited him to share a cup. And yes, we both wore masks.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle speaks to my restlessness. In spite of very different life circumstances, the author’s temper matches mine in the impatience to discern who I am rather than who I was taught to be. Learning to ignore feelings and follow social norms was a major theme for girls in the ‘50’s. Is 70 too late to discover and express one’s self? Look out, world!
I recommend these books. Even more, I recommend reading good literature that uncovers the world to challenge the reader. Examining contrary views unseals the mind, grows critical thinking, and expands a vocabulary for discussion.
When fatigued with the news of the day, I pull out the likes of Alexander McCall Smith or Frances Mayes for well-written light topics. Drifting on the pages to Scotland, Botswana, or Italy, I am hopeful, renewed, and ready to face another tough topic.