Showing posts with label racism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label racism. Show all posts

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Kid Authors by David Stahler

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I could have done without the illustrations by Doogie Horner, but maybe those will appeal to the age range at which this is aimed. The actual content on the other hand was at times entertaining and interesting, but the racism and genderism inherent in the choice of writers featured here bothered me immensely, and it's why I cannot recommend this book. It's long past time to take a stand against white American males being the only important people in the world. We see it on TV, we see it in movies, and we see it in books. It needs to stop.

The book is not about children who are authors, but about the childhood of now well-known authors. The details are necessarily brief: each author gets ten or eleven pages on average, of quite large, liberally-spaced print and some of that space is taken up by the illustrations. At the back there is a half dozen or so pages with one paragraph 'also-rans' which is interesting because it includes writers like Alice walker and Maya Angelou who apparently didn't make it into the 'big time' here, but even in this section, most of the writers appear to be white American males like no one else is worth listening to.

The book has an introduction which I skipped as I routinely do, because introductions (prefaces, author's notes, forewords, prologues and so on) are wasteful of paper, are antiquated, and really tell us nothing useful. I rather get right into the body of the work than waste my time on frivolity.

Some of the stories are upsetting, when you realize what some kids had to go through to get where they got, and that isn't over today either, but how much more of a struggle is it for some authors to get ten pages in a book like this? Other stories are endearing or amusing, so there's something for everyone, but that said, the vast preponderance of coverage is of white American male authors which represent eleven out of the sixteen - almost seventy percent - who get ten pages here. Four of the others are British, and one is French.

That's a seriously limited coverage in a world where two-thirds of the planet's population is Indian or Chinese, fifty percent of the planet is women, and most of the planet isn't white. There are only three are non-white (two African Americans and one American Indian) authors represented here so it bothered me that children reading this might get the impression that only America (and maybe Britain) has anyone who can write, and nearly all those who can write are white men. This is neither an accurate nor a realistic impression, nor is it a useful one to give children in a world where whites are the real minority.

This is a skewed view which is already being hammered into young peoples' heads by the appalling number of novels coming out of the US which are also set in the US (or if they're set abroad, they star Americans, like no one else ever has anything to say or any adventures to write about), and largely written about white characters.

This Trump mentality is isolationist and very dangerous, so I would have liked to have seen a much wider coverage and more female authors (who get less than forty percent representation here). Also the youngest writer represented here was born in 1971! Almost half of them were not even born last century! 13 of the sixteen were born before the 1950's! It's not being ageist to ask for a sprinkling of younger writers! And could there not have been more females, more people of color, including an Asian or two?

Could there not have been a Toni Morrison or an Octavia Butler? A Clarice Lispector or a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? A Zadie Smith or an Elena Ferrante? A Lu Min, a Zhang Ling? No Jenny Han or Tahereh Mafi? No Jhumpa Lahiri or an Indu Sundaresan? There are so many to choose from, so it's a real shame that this book evidently went with the easiest, the commonest, the path of least resistance? It felt lazy to me at best.

These are the authors which do appear:

  • JRR Tolkien (white, English, b. 1892)
  • JK Rowling (white, English, b. 1965)
  • Edgar Allen Poe (white, American, b. 1809)
  • Sherman Alexie (American Indian, b. 1966)
  • Lewis Carroll (white, English, b. 1832)
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder (white, American, b. 1867)
  • Zora Neale Hurston (black, American, b. 1891)
  • Mark Twain (white, American, b. 1910
  • Judy Blume (white, American, b. 1948
  • Langston Hughes (black, American, b. 1902
  • Jules Verne (white, French, b. 1828)
  • Roald Dahl (white, Welsh, b. 1916)(
  • Stan lee (white, American, b. 1922)
  • Beverly Cleary (white, American, b. 1916)
  • Lucy Maud Montgomery (white, American, b. 1874)
  • Jeff Kinney (white, American, b. 1971)

The book had at least one inaccuracy: it proclaims that Joanne Rowling (now Murray) was Joanne Kathleen Rowling, but she never was. It was only Joanne Rowling (pronounced 'rolling'). The 'Kathleen' came about because her weak-kneed and faithless publisher declared that boys wouldn't read a book written by a girl. They insisted that she use her first initial and a fake middle initial. Not having any clout back then, she chose the 'K' for 'Kathleen', the name of her grandmother.

This is why I despise Big Publishing, but at least I have the knowledge that a dozen idiot publishers turned down her Harry Potter series and thereby lost a fortune. The sad thing is that now they're trying to make up for it by buying every idiotic magician series ever produced, which is cheapening the whole genre. This why I self publish. I refuse to let blinkered publishers try to tell me what my name should be. I'd rather sell no books than deal with people like that.

So, in short, this could have been a hell of a lot better and I cannot recommend it.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

Rating: WORTHY!

It's easy to think this is water under the bridge now, but it's just as hard to believe that even as recently as the 1960's (and beyond) there was hateful segregation and discrimination based on skin color. It was there nevertheless, and this graphic novel tells the story of one man's perspective on the efforts of himself and others to overthrow it. Fortunately, he lived to tell the tale of segregated buses, segregated education, segregated drinking fountains, segregated rest-rooms and segregated lunch counters. He was there at the protests and organized many of them.

Congressman John Robert Lewis worked with Andrew Aydin who at the time of publication at least in 2013, served in Lewis's DC office handling media and telecommunications, and with Nat Powell, a graphic novelist, to recount Lewis's story of his childhood, early upbringing, his striving for an education, and finally his involvement with civil rights and with Ghandi-style peaceful protests and passive resistance. It cost these people their comfort, their dignity at times, and it brought them physical violence, but they stuck with it, their numbers grew, and they won out in the end. The sad thing is that they should never have had to fight at all, not even passively.

It's just as important now to recall what they did and what they won, when police profiling and white-cop-on-black-citizen violence seems repeatedly to flare-up in the news, as it was for these people and their white supporters to take a stand against this evil and outsmart it. That's precisely why this novel isn't water under the bridge and why it, or something lie this if you chose a different publication or medium to refresh you mind on this topic is eminently worth your time. In this particular case, the artwork is interestingly done in black and white, which only serves to highlight the divide that still exists in so many ways.

I have one interesting and amusing coincidence which happened when I opened this to read it and I think it's worth relating. The image colors were reversed when I first started reading: the white page was black and the black line drawings were white! At first I thought it was a glitch in the download, but then I realized that my iPad was set for night reading, which reverses the colors and conserves battery power. I recommend it, but when I realized what had happened, I thought, "How poetic this is!" And what a great shift in perspective this gave for my starting to read this novel. I found myself switching the back-lighting as I read, so different sections came to me in reversed colors. I recommend you try it when you read it. It never hurts to get a kick in the head and realize we're on two sides of the same coin and we either make it together or we have no currency.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Return To Sender By Julia Alvarez

Rating: WARTY!

This one sounded interesting from the blurb, but it quickly turned into a clone of all the other stories of illegal immigrants in the American South - or in this case the Northeast. Eleven-year-old Tyler's family hires migrant Mexicans to work on their Vermont farm. They don't worry too much about whether the workers are legal. Tyler gets to know the migrants' oldest daughter until he learns that she's there illegally.

I got to about one third the way through this and quickly lost interest. This story is nothing more than a duplicate of every other such story, showing Mexicans as struggling, trying to build a better life for themselves, which no one can blame a family for, but just like all the other stories, it depicts the Mexicans as religious, family-centric, and it tosses in cozy Hispanic family words like Tio and Abuelita. But if every story of this nature depicts Mexicans as just like all the other Mexicans, isn't that racist? It sure seems that way to me. Why are these writers not interested in telling a different story: in stretching themselves and pushing the envelope instead of parroting the precise same thing all the other writers have already spewed ad nauseam?

I'm sorry but I'm not going to rate a novel as a worthy read when it's a Xerox of every other story and rather male-centric to boot. I do like it for the idea it gave me, but that's as far as I can compliment it!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D Schmidt

Rating: WORTHY!

For a Newbery/Printz book, which I normally avoid like the plague, this one started out surprisingly well. Whether it would remain that way then became the question because Newbery books have been pretty much universally rotten in my experience. It was a surprise therefore, to discover that this one was different.

The basic material is of great interest. This fiction is rooted in yet another shameful example of abusive treatment visited upon "minorities" by US governmental agencies and supposedly god-fearing locals who despite their Christian platitudes, behaved unforgivably and abominably.

This book is pure fiction, but the facts are these: in 1912, the US state of Maine, after initially seeming to behave reasonably towards the island community, suddenly evicted the residents and razed their homes. They even went to the trouble of digging up 17 graves, dumping the bones in five coffins, and reburying those at the School for the Feeble-Minded in Pownal, Maine. Eight of the residents were also deemed to be feeble-minded, when it was actually the governor of the state who was retarded. The rest of the forty or so residents of mixed race, were gone by then, taking their shacks with them. This happened in the summer, not in the winter as is misleadingly depicted in this novel.

Them's the facts. It's known quite well who was on the island, and photographs of some of the residents can be found on the Internet. Some of their descendants are living today. The fiction is that Lizzie Bright Griffin is one of the black residents on Malaga Island, which is located at the mouth of the New Meadows River in Casco Bay, Maine. She eventually meets the son, Turner, of the new pastor in Phippsburg, Reverend Buckminster (who's rather 'Fuller' himself LOL!) which is located close by, on the mainland (the Maine land?!).

Turner is not at all happy with life in this penny-ante town after having lived in Boston. They have a weird way of playing baseball here, and the other kids seem like they want to embarrass him, or even bring him to harm when they go 'swimming' with him. Swimming to these kids involves jumping forty feet into the waves above the rocks on the shore, where if you misjudged your jump and don't catch the wave, you're very likely to end up as gull fodder splattered on the rocks. Turner isn't happy and can't seem to do anything right.

He strikes up a friendship with Lizzie, and the adventures the two have are unexpected. About two-thirds the way through, I started to get the feeling that this atrocity was starting to get whitewashed, and some of that feeling still lingers, but the ending turned it around sufficiently, shamelessly fabricated though it was, for me to rate this as a worthy read - or more accurately a worthy start to learning more about an awful pogrom. To the best of my knowledge, there was no Lizzie Bright or anyone like her, and there was no Turner Buckminster or anyone like him. Had there been a Lizzie Bright just like this one she would not have suffered the fate she did, so that rang a bit false for me, but it did make a solid point, and for that I can forgive it. I'll never forgive the jerks who stained human history with these events.

There is an odd undercurrent to the writing: that reading Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species..." was what put fire in Turner's veins - not what was happening to the people on Malaga! but evolution? It made no sense. I've read On the Origin... and despite the revolution is engendered, frankly, it's tedious! It's far more likely to put tire than fire into anyone's veins. Why the author didn't have Turner read Thomas Paine's Age of Reason instead, is a mystery. I did appreciate the sentiment that hard science, and not blind faith is what's actually going to save us - if blind believers such as the creationists will quit trying to trip it up and disembowel it, but the author really didn't get that part right. That aside, I felt this was, overall, a worthy read.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Secret at Haney Field by RM Clark

Title: The Secret at Haney Field
Author: RM Clark
Publisher: MB Publishing
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often reward aplenty!

What could be more appropriate in the depths of winter than a book about baseball?! This is actually the first fiction I've ever read that features baseball at its core. For those who need it, it features a nice glossary at the beginning, which was actually useful to me. I'm not a huge sports fan! And a huge sports fan might be what you have to be to properly enjoy this: note that it's really heavy into baseball terminology and trivia.

That said, I can tell you that I really liked the story and consider it a worthy read. It was inventive, atmospheric, well-written, and proves single-handedly that it's possible to write a first person PoV novel that's not vomit-inducing! Kudos for that!

April O'Day is obsessed with baseball. Unhealthily so, I'd say, but let's let that slide right on by. She's also a bit too much of a Mary Sue, but other than that, she's smart, helpful, confident, adventurous, and she has integrity and guts. That's not bad at all for a female protagonist, and a heck of a lot better than you get in your typical YA novel. Maybe that's because this is middle-grade and not YA? Middle grade females seem to have a heck of a lot more going for them than ever do females in YA. Hey, why is that?

April's summer thrill is that she gets to be bat-girl(!) for a week at the local minor league team - the Harpoons (a suitably phallic name for a sports team, let's face it). She does so well that she is allowed to stay on after her volunteer week is over. She proves her worth not just by doing her assigned job well, but also by giving tips to the players on their running, their swinging, and their throwing, and the team starts doing really well.

So far, so good, but one night when she's delayed leaving, and when the stadium lights go off, April thinks she sees shadows running bases - not real people, but transparent shadows. Maybe it's just her imagination. But she keeps seeing them. Her friend Darren sees them. So, too, does the owner, Mr Haney, who takes a shine to April and invites her to his owner's box. After a discussion, he authorizes her to find out all she can about the shadows.

It's pretty obvious what they are, but maybe middle-graders will take longer to figure out out. What's not so obvious is why they're haunting Haney Field. Are they connected with that large object which Haney keeps hidden away under the stadium? Are they connected with names missing from a plaque? Why does Haney turn hostile when he learns what those names are? Are they connected with events from seventy years ago? And why are they haunting Haney's field?

I really liked this story, despite some minor irritations. It told a good tale and although it was a bit too sugary, it had a good ending. I'm sure middle-graders will love it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: Audio Partners (website not found)
Rating: WORTHY!

Ably read by Roses Pritchard.

I picked up this book because I finally couldn't stand not knowing what the big deal was about a two-kilo mockingbird. I guess I misheard the title...just kidding!

Set in the mid 1930's during the "Great Depression" (but written in the late fifties and published in 1960), this story is told from the PoV of Jean Louise Finch, who was known as "Scout", but it's told in retrospect, by an adult Jean, remembering events years ago. Jean's mother was dead, even back then, and she lived with her father, Atticus, a lawyer, and her older brother, Jeremy, who was known as "Jem".

Harper Lee denied that the novel was autobiographical, but her own father was a lawyer, she had an older bother, she hung out with a new guy in town who lived next door, and there was a boarded-up house nearby about which they made up stories. Many events in this story actually occurred in one way or another, although they were modified for this story.

The Finch family lives next door to the reclusive Radley family, and because of this, they make up stories about the Radley's - a family which both scares and intrigues them. During this time, a local black guy, Tom Robinson, is accused of assaulting a white girl - which back then, and especially in the south, was a pretty much an automatic death sentence whether the accused did it or not.

Atticus forbids his kids from watching the trial, but they sneak into the 'colored seats' up on the balcony. By some careful legal footwork, Atticus eventually shows the court that Mayella Violet Ewell, the girl accusing Tom, and her father, Robert E Lee Ewall, are lying. It was Bob who beat Mayella, not Tom. Despite this, Tom is found guilty, and is later shot 17 times when he supposedly tries to escape from prison.

This story borrows a lot from the real-life Emmett Till case, which was equally messed up, with exaggeration and dissemination on both sides. The sad thing there is that while nothing happened (at least not through the courts) to the accusers in that case, the accused paid heavily for this event - which constituted rudeness at worst and a misunderstanding at best - with his life, in an horrific torture and murder episode in the early hours of one morning - and the accused was only fourteen years old.

This story ends in Bob Ewell's death after he launches a cowardly attack upon Jean and Jeremy as they walk home late one night from a school Halloween pageant. Why Atticus even countenanced their being unescorted given the preceding campaign of threats and intimidation which Ewell had launched against Atticus and his home is a mystery and an appalling example of irresponsible parenting.

I don't know if I would have enjoyed this had I read it rather than listened to it. It was entertaining to begin with, then got boring, then became entertaining again. Roses Pritchard did a good job or representing the older Scout reminiscing.

The story isn't a really great story, and some negative reviews I've read call it out correctly in some regards, but to me a story is either worth reading (a five-star) or it isn't (a zero-star represented by a one-star since zero isn't an option). Yes the characters were a bit flat, and yes it was a very black and white story in more than one way, but did it entertain me? Yes!

Another complaint I read was that there was no character growth, but to me, character growth is over-rated! I don't need a character to grow in a story (unless they're really awful to begin with in which case growth is a requirement!). All I need is for the characters to be entertaining. Indeed, some stories which have entertained me well are enjoyable in part because the character doesn't change. In this case I neither expected it nor needed it, and I considered this one a worthy read - or more accurately, a worthy listen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chump by Rusty Reeves

Title: Chump
Author: Rusty Reeves (website not found)
Publisher: Reeves (website not found)
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!

Not to be confused with author Rusty van Reeves, the author of this novel is a forensic psychiatrist, and the novel is about a fictional Texan, Beauregard Peebles, who was educated at Princeton and is now in his third year at medical school. Beau decides to take up the so-called white man's burden and save the black community from itself, one family at a time. The amount of arrogance and sheer gall it takes to do this ought to be no surprise at all to anyone who's met a senior med student or two. Nurses worship them almost as much as they worship doctors.

He is laboring under the delusion that he will be honoring Princeton's motto: Princeton in the nation's service and in the service of all nations, and after a really educational introduction to Ob-Gyn and L&D, he decides he can salvage them poor black folks and turn around the impoverished African American community which serves up the kind of female patients he's recently been dissing and making racists comments about behind their back. In short, he;s a chump, and worse than that, he;s a moron.

His "in" to the locals is a friend - after a fashion - whom he met playing basketball, a black kid named Tyranius Roosevelt. "Doctor" Peebles wants to see if he can bring about a change for the better in the life of his young drug-dealing friend and his family. He fails and learns nothing from his disastrous interference in their lives.

I found it hilariously hypocritical when the author has his main character say, on page 218, "Rule number two, no insults or name-calling. That's hurtful and solves nothing." This is his advice to the family when they all have a show-down, and this comes from the monumentally hypocritical "doctor" who has, throughout the novel, routinely and shamelessly embraced grotesquely disparaging comments about African Americans (although not directly to them, and mostly under his breath or in his own deranged mind). I had never actually liked the Chump, but at this point I started actively disliking him, which is never a good sentiment with which to imbue your readers.

Chapter 29 p244 starts in some weird-ass form of "Ebonics" which took this story - which was already heading seriously downhill - way over the edge for me. I wasn't about to start reading that. It went one for two whole chapters. I couldn't even begin to get back into it after that, not even in the hope that there might be some point to this drivel. It simply wasn’t remotely interesting. I did finally understand the title, though: I'm a chump for even reading this.