book review

Good and Mad

A 2017 Pew survey found that nearly six in ten women said they were paying increased attention to politics since the 2016 election, a greater share than men.

I’m for sure one of those six.

I never considered myself a political person until the 2016 election. I barely paid attention to government matters most of the time, and didn’t like to disclose political views because many of my friends were very passionate about politics and I feared their wrath if I opined on anything when I felt so uninformed. So I generally kept my mouth shut. Until Trump.

I felt so defeated after the election I was in a bit of a stupor the day after. I was living in a very red area and was extremely grateful no library patrons came to gloat – but those who had voted for Hillary had a look about them and we could nod to each other and know that there was someone in that town who understood. And reading Good and Mad was like an extended version of that nod.

In this book, I felt my feelings were finally articulated and distilled to a point that could be explained to others who didn’t feel them the same way. I was good and mad. I was bewildered. I was angry. And the activist movement that came out of that anger helped to keep me sane during the first part of the 45 administration. I had a purpose to give that anger to. I could commiserate with people who felt similarly, and together we could work to express our dissatisfaction to others in a productive way.

“Grab the broom of anger and drive off the beast of fear,” wrote Zora Neale Hurston

Selfie with my handmade pussy hat at the Atlanta Women’s March, January 2017.

I can’t fully express the joy I felt participating in the Women’s March in Atlanta. It was so incredibly cathartic, and gave me the opportunity to meet some lovely women I carpooled up with who lived in our small Georgia town and were all so grateful to know there were others like us there. I marched with a woman who had marched in Selma back in the 60s and it was a privilege to link arms with her. There were so many of us we couldn’t hear John Lewis speak, but we knew he was there and that was enough. I’d been able to knit some pussy hats and got them to some of the other women in the group and they were so pleased to have a handmade souvenir of the event.

Some members of my family, and some of my friends who lean conservative, did not understand why I participated in that march (and the March for Science and the March For Our Lives, and presumably others in future) and I found myself getting very heated about it. How could they NOT see why I participated?!

It was comforting to read this book and not only feel that my anger was vindicated and not unusual, but to feel that righteous anger bubble up in me again. The author stresses that it’s better to have that anger released in productive ways:

Having had the rare and privileged experience of having had my anger taken seriously, valued on its merits, I no longer believe that it is anger that is hurting us, but rather the system that penalizes us for expressing it, that doesn’t respect or hear it, that isn’t curious about it, that mocks or ignores it. That’s what’s making us sick; that’s what’s making us feel crazy, alone; that’s why we’re grinding our teeth at night.

We can’t keep that anger inside us. We have to allow it to come out. We have to express it, articulate it. Women are automatically called crazy or hysterical when they show their anger, they are seen as unhinged. But women have valid reasons for their anger, and they can use their anger to not only help themselves but others who are also seen as unhinged for being unsatisfied and frustrated with their situation. It was invigorating to read this, and I think it’s not only a good book for people of today who need help deciphering their anger, but also for future times when people want to understand how the movement unveiled itself during this time.

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book life

Reading Habits

I just finished reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I have an anecdote for Ayn Rand from my bookselling days: I worked at a chain bookstore in Utah, and one summer there were a large number of teenagers fresh out of high school or entering senior year who came in asking for either The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. It happened so much that I finally started asking if it was a summer reading assignment. Nope, these kids were simply interested in tackling Rand. It was a little weird.

But I’ve been curious to read Rand ever since. There’s a joke on the internet that you should never date someone who says they like Atlas Shrugged, so when a dear friend of mine mentioned that he loved The Fountainhead I had to laugh but be relieved it wasn’t Atlas Shrugged. But I also didn’t want to judge Rand until I had given her a shot. And what I found was that I really enjoyed reading The Fountainhead! I totally fell for the characters and got wrapped up in the story and found ways to relate to it that I didn’t think I would find. Granted, I didn’t always get the Randian philosophy that she hits you over the head with – either I didn’t follow the logic or I didn’t agree with it – but for me that didn’t take away from the story and the reading of it. And now I can say that I’ve read Rand and actually kind of liked it.

I had another friend tell me recently that I was one of the most widely read people he knows. I think a lot of that had to do with me reading enough academic books that he has also read, but it still made me feel good. When I was in library school I took a Popular Fiction class where we read a different genre every week. I read Amish romance, urban fiction, Harlequin romance, and others I normally wouldn’t have read. Our instructor was a local public librarian who was PASSIONATE about making sure that as librarians we follow the law of library science that every person has their book and every book has its reader. We should read widely to know what our patrons may like. And I took that advice to heart.

At my second public library job in Georgia I was in charge of purchasing all the adult fiction (to clarify: fiction for adults as opposed to teens or children, not the X-rated stuff. People have gotten confused). I started to participate heavily in LibraryReads and got a few reviews published on their site, and tried reading outside my usual comfort zone to participate even more. I discovered that while I had never considered myself a romance reader, I tried out a few that I soon discovered that I LOVED a few romance genre writers and wanted to read any series they came out with. (Currently I’m in love with Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series. Like, I love it so much that when I hear of a new installment I jump for joy in my desk chair.) I aim to read at least 50 books a year so I can squeeze in not only the titles I want to read but others that are different and might be of interest to others that I can recommend. And I might even find a new genre or author or story that I can love and enjoy.

What all this boils down to is that I recognize that while I may not enjoy certain genres and kinds of books, those genres have their fans. Don’t ridicule. What matters is that the person is reading and has found something they enjoy that takes them out of real life for a time. Taking some time to read outside of your comfort zone with give you a chance to see what others may like and allow you to read in their shoes so to speak, and you might even find that you love a genre you weren’t aware of before, and how fun is that??

book review, history

PhD Student Meets Hitler

I’ve been reading Travelers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd, which compiles the journals and letters and other observations of people who visited Germany starting in the 1920s and the Weimar Republic and into the Hitler regime. I find this a totally fascinating topic because so many people vacationed or conducted business in Germany in the 30s and had no idea how dark it was and would continue to be. Many of these visitors exposed their own prejudices and racist attitudes towards Jews and felt sympathetic towards the Nazis. And sometimes, despite any misgivings they had about the Nazis, they got swept up in the pageantry and cult behavior of the Nazi party. I may blog again about this book as I keep reading it because there’s a lot of interesting stuff in here.

One of the stories that popped out to me was that of Milton S. J. Wright, who at the time of the rise of the Nazi party was a PhD student of economics at Heidelberg University, and was lucky enough to have an audience with Adolf Hitler himself… and what made this all the more eye-opening is that Milton Wright was black.

Continue reading “PhD Student Meets Hitler”

hate read book club

Hate Read Book Club continuation

So last year I was feeling down in the dumps (you know, that whole election thing) and needed something to do as an outlet for my snark. So I decided to start what I called the Hate Read Book Club – and it is what it says on the tin. You hate read a book. What’s a hate read? Reading a book you know you’re not going to like and do it for entertainment value. LOL. Yeah, not for everyone, but I was raised watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, so I’ve been enjoying bad art for a long time now.

So I started with This Victorian Life by Sarah Chrisman. You may know her as the more famous half of the duo known on the internet as That Victorian Couple. I explain them a little in this Tumblr post. I started doing the Hate Read Book Club on my Tumblr, and got a few chapters in, and then I got a new job and all my spare time was taken and I haven’t revisited it since. Until now…

So I’ve decided to pick it up again, but post it here on this blog. Let’s see if I can get through the whole book this time! You can catch up with the previous posts here:

This Victorian Life: Introduction
This Victorian Life: Chapter 1
This Victorian Life: Chapters 2 & 3

Now we’ll continue with This Victorian Life: Chapters 4 & 5: Continue reading “Hate Read Book Club continuation”

book review

What I’m Reading

Though my day job is being a librarian, I don’t get asked much what I’m currently reading. It’s actually a point of annoyance for me, since I rather enjoy discussing books with people. So I’ll use the fact that I have a blog I’m not doing much with to post some of my thoughts of my reading pile.

Yesterday I finished reading two books, and both put me in a very pensive mood, though both were dramatically different.

The first book I finished (after picking at it over the course of a week because the week was pretty crazy) was The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition by Linda Gordon. I have always had a fascination with the Klan as a topic. I’ve lived in two areas where the Klan was active (northern Georgia and northern Indiana) and the closest brush I’ve had with them is the time I was in a production of The Laramie Project at Purdue North-Central, and the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance had been told through family members with connections to the Klan that the Klan would protest the production. Ultimately they did not, but it was still a troubling time for a few weeks.

Gordon’s book focuses on the second iteration of the Klan in the early 20th century. The original Klan had come out of Reconstruction era bigotry and white male anger, but had died out over the last couple of decades after the Civil War. The resurgence of the Klan found it far more organized and ritualized (this is when the infamous Kloran was written), and built out of a response to the romantic interpretation of it in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation film. It was presented as more of a fraternal order that would benefit members’ social and business standing (so not as secretive in many respects), as well as being a front to support white supremacy and push back immigrants and anyone not their version of “white” (African-Americans were naturally the main group discriminated against, but this Klan was anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic as well). I know enough about this revival of the Klan to know that it fell from prominence after only a few years due to a great deal of corruption at many levels of the organization, mostly notably that of Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson.

My big takeaway from the book, and one of the reasons I picked it up, was learning about the women’s activities with the Klan at this time period. A lot of recruitment was done through churches (many Protestant ministers were Klan members), and as such women’s Klan involvement was in a way an extension of any church auxiliary.  Oddly enough, the women of the Klan were supportive of women’s suffrage – a progressive cause you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a hate organization at the time. Though the Klan was initially ambivalent or a little against women having the vote, once women did get the vote it was seen as a boon for white supremacy – wives could help vote their causes into local government.

The book mostly focused on chapters of the Klan in northern states, which was interesting to be sure, but I would have appreciated some more insight in how the Klan in the southern states was at the time. (Other books I’m interested in reading on this topic in general are Blazing Crosses in Zion and Ku Klux Kulture: America and the Klan in the 1920s.)

I also read a novel in a day, which I don’t always have the pleasure of doing often. The book was Vox by Christina Dalcher, which comes out in August (a privilege of being a librarian is I have access to digital advance reader copies of books well before their publication date). This is a dystopian novel that I identified very quickly as a The Handmaid’s Tale readalike (I’m obsessed with and horrified by the TV show, but loved the book beforehand) in which a theocratic government has taken charge of the country, and women are kicked out of the workforce and are only allowed to speak 100 words a day. Every woman has a counter on her wrist that keeps track of her words, and gives a shock if she goes over.

This was a fast-paced read, with definite influences of our current administration and Handmaid’s Tale plots. Perhaps at times a little too fast-paced, but I could easily suspend my beliefs for the sake of the story.  Jean McClellan, the main character, is complex and imperfect, and that kind of made me love her quite quickly. I understood the flaws and believed them. She had the politically-active friend who warned her what was to come, and she was blind and privileged enough to ignore the signs. She’s a brilliant scientist who is suddenly thrust into a role and reality that takes away much of the joy in her life, and she doesn’t know how to fix it until an opportunity falls in her lap that gives her a glimpse of what is to come, and also a chance to make a difference.

I finished this book and felt a great need to dig out my pussy hat, strap on my Chuck Taylors, pin on my “Love Trumps Hate” button and get marching again because I DO NOT WANT any of these dystopians to happen in any shape or form. We see shades of our current reality in Vox, in Handmaid’s Tale, in Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, and it’s chilling and disconcerting. I don’t want to be bold or blind enough to say that we will for sure avoid the fall from grace we see in our fiction worlds, but it does give one pause and a desire to use that fire in the belly and do something about it.

Needless to say, I need something a little light-hearted to follow this all up with, so I may give Hope Never Dies: An Obama/Biden Mystery from Quirk Books a try to cleanse the palate 😉