White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo has been on my shelf for a while. I read What Does it Mean to be White (reviewed here) in a book group at school and heard her speak at a conference. White Fragility was a quick read, and one that reiterated a number of the same ideas in What Does it Mean to be White. However, there were a number of good take-aways, especially in the last chapter, “Where Do We Go from Here.” This is a good primer on the concept of white fragility and includes useful information and things to think about in one’s own experience.
Red Dress in Black & White by Elliot Ackerman ended up on my TBR list somehow and then was also recommended by a friend. It all takes place in one day with flashbacks to earlier times. It’s the story of an American expat living in Istanbul who seeks to take her son and leave her husband. I slogged through this one until about the last quarter. The pace picked up and the story became much more interesting. On the whole, however, even with the better last quarter, I don’t recommend this one. I didn’t like the characters and didn’t really care about what happened to them.
How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi is everywhere right now and you are lucky if you can get your hands on a copy (link is to local Mahogany Books where it is presently – July 14, 2020 – backordered). How to be an Antiracist included a good amount of the history found in Stamped (reviewed here) but woven in and among personal stories and Kendi’s own theories on racism and antiracism. I enjoyed reading Kendi’s own stories and learned a great deal from his theories, but, in moments, found the text a bit dry. I imagine this is mostly because I just read Stamped where the style (Jason Reynolds’) is quite different. Overall, however, How to be an Antiracist is an informative and important read.
“The history of racist ideas is the history of powerful policy-makers erecting racist policies out of self-interest, then producing racist ideas to defend and rationalized the inequitable effects of their policies, while everyday people consume those racist ideas, which in turn sparks ignorance and hate. Treating ignorance and hate and expecting racism to shrink suddenly seemed like treading a cancer patient’s symptoms and expecting the tumors to shrink. The body politic might feel better momentarily from the treatment–from trying to eradicate hate and ignorance–but as long as the underlying cause remains, the tumors grow, the symptoms return, and inequities spread like cancer cells, threatening the life of the body politic. Educational and moral suasion is not only a failed strategy. It is a suicidal strategy.”(page 230)
All Adults Here by Emma Straub has been on many summer reading lists this year (including my own planned summer want-to-read list). It’s the story of a family of three siblings and their fraught relationships. The beginning bodes well – a jarring incident where a woman in the town is struck and killed by the school bus – to get you into the story, but overall, the book was cold and I didn’t like any of the characters. Perhaps that was part of the point, but I didn’t find it an enjoyable read.
I didn’t realize when I grabbed Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad that it is a workbook, designed almost as a course to help you understand systemic racism and your own biases. Since I listened to it on a long drive, I wasn’t able to participate in the journalling, but everything about this book was food for thought and would be perfect for a group to read and work through together. My kids and I listened to Me and White Supremacy and it gave us opportunity to have some deeper discussions as a family. The book is based on a viral Instagram challenge that asks readers/listeners to: examine their own white privilege; understand what allyship really means; learn about anti-blackness, racial stereotypes, and cultural appropriation; change the way they view and respond to race; and continue the work to create social change. In essence the book gives you the language to understand racism, and to dismantle your own biases. I would think it would be a great book to use anywhere to lead discussion and promote change.
The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester was a perfect beach read. WWII (I know, I know, how many WWII books can one person read) and family saga back and forth in time – just what I like. In one story we meet Estrella, a seamstress in Paris who is forced to leave for America to stay safe. In the other, we meet her granddaughter, Fabienne, who has similar talents. There’s mystery, love, intrigue – all the elements that keep you reading in a 400+ page novel. And, it’s a good one. Thanks to my neighbor for lending it to me – it’s a great choice.
I really enjoyed The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. I recalled not loving The Mothers, her debut, but when I went back to link to that post, I discovered I, in fact, did like it. My review was rather lukewarm, however. The Vanishing Half, on the other hand, was GREAT! It was a fascinating story of twin sisters, one who chose to live as Black and one who passed as white. I think Amazon does a great job of a synopsis: “Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins. As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise.” I agree with this review 100% and suggest you grab this one – it’s a great read!
While I don’t normally enjoy YA, Dear Martin by Nic Stone was an exception. While the characters were teenagers, the book didn’t feel like YA. Justyce is an honor student at a private school, a good kid, and always there to help a friend. However, when he tries to help a former girlfriend, he ends up in handcuffs. Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and asks for answers to his troubles. These journal entries compose every other chapter of the beginning of the book. Then, Justyce and his best friend go for a ride, anger the driver beside them and shots are fired. I won’t spoil the story because you should read it. Suffice it to say, this is an all-too-real novel. It’s a great read, though depressing.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar has been on a lot of lists this spring/summer. And, while the story was interesting, I didn’t love it. It’s the tale of three people in India who are all connected to a woman who is arrested for a terrorist bombing of a train. We hear her perspective as well as one of her former teachers and a woman she knows in her neighborhood. It is interesting how the stories collide, but the writing style didn’t keep me interested and the ending was so surprising and abrupt that I was taken aback. Overall, this one wasn’t for me.
Jennifer Weiner is usually a good summer reading choice and Big Summer was not an exception. While this one was a little deeper than some, it was a quick read and the mystery made it a page-turner. Amazon reports: “Six years after the fight that ended their friendship, Daphne Berg is shocked when Drue Cavanaugh walks back into her life, looking as lovely and successful as ever, with a massive favor to ask. Daphne hasn’t spoken one word to Drue in all this time—she doesn’t even hate-follow her ex-best friend on social media—so when Drue asks if she will be her maid-of-honor at the society wedding of the summer, Daphne is rightfully speechless. Drue was always the one who had everything—except the ability to hold onto friends. Meanwhile, Daphne’s no longer the same self-effacing sidekick she was back in high school. She’s built a life that she loves, including a growing career as a plus-size Instagram influencer. Letting glamorous, seductive Drue back into her life is risky, but it comes with an invitation to spend a weekend in a waterfront Cape Cod mansion. When Drue begs and pleads and dangles the prospect of cute single guys, Daphne finds herself powerless as ever to resist her friend’s siren song.” Nothing too deep here, but a good diversion.