These immortal phrases, combined with the convergence of the holiday weekend honoring Martin Luther King and President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, have us thinking about race and identity in America. This, in turn, has affected our reading. So here are some recommendations for those of you who wish to also think a bit more about race, or who just want to read a good book.
How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – I should warn you I am white (as you may have surmised from my pictures on this blog and the fact I live in Vermont, one of the least ethnically diverse states in America). But, I am raising two Latino children; one of whom periodically identifies as a Black man. So, I picked this up for some insight and I am glad I did. Through truly funny and often painful humor, Mr. Thurston, of Jack and Jill Politics and The Onion, makes the reader think hard about their own racist tendencies. Besides the memoir aspects of the book, during which he shares stories about his politically inspired Nigerian name and the heroics of his hippie mother, Mr. Thurston also offers practical advice on “How to Be the (Next) Black President” and “How to Celebrate Black History Month.” He even has a focus group, with a token white person, to help him think through many of the items he proposes or discusses. Whether you agree with him or not, for me, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am truly appreciative of the source that started me thinking about improving my actions. In this case, I was also glad for the laugh out loud moments. As the author himself facetiously writes, please read this as part of your preparation for African-American history month activities. ~ Lisa Christie
Looking for The Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco (2012). Each of the poems in this latest book of poetry by Inaugural poet Richard Blanco takes a particular part of the author’s childhood (i.e., a beach vacation) and uses it to explore the person he is today. As the poems reveal, Cuban-American, gay man, poet, New Englander, Florida born and bred, are all possible adjectives for Mr. Blanco. But labels don’t quite capture the entirety of a person. As the poet himself states that in this book, “I am looking to capture those elusive moments that come to define us, be it through family, country, or love.” This looking is no small task, and one, as these poems remind us, that it seems each of us, poet or not, tackles in our own way throughout our life.
Besides the honor of being part of today’s inauguration, Blanco has won several awards for his work: the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh for his first collection, City of a Hundred Fires, and the PEN American Center Beyond Margins Award for his second book, Directions to the Beach of the Dead. If you have not yet discovered his work, or wish to learn a bit about American identity, or want to feel a small part of today’s inaugural festivities, or just want to read a few good poems, pick up this book and enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie
Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (2004) – This review focuses on the audio version of this book for which our President won a Grammy. (Side note: President Obama and his producer also won one for The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.) I am truly glad that I finally found the time to listen. Not only was it fun to have his voice in my minivan as I drove over our snow-covered roads, it was enlightening and thought-provoking to hear how his childhood, his absent father, his step-father, his mother, his grandparents, as well as important teachers, shaped President Obama’s life. It may serve as a good reminder that you never know who you will be influencing with your own actions. It may inspire you in its telling of an American story. But, it is definitely a source of insight into our 44th President as he takes the oath of office for the fourth time today. ~ Lisa Christie
For those of you feeling the need to “attend” an inaugural ball, check out http://busboysandpoets.com/events/info/peace-ball-2013. This is a bash organized by an independent bookseller in the DC area, and while it occurred last night, we thought it was worth highlighting. The New York Times also lists it as one of the “hot ticket” inaugural balls – http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/17/fashion/a-list-guide-to-the-inauguration-parties.html?pagewanted=all. So click away, and enjoy a bit of inaugural festivities on your own electronic devices.