Thursday, September 14, 2017

September 2017 "Quick Lit"

I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy today for Quick Lit, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading. This past month I read three nonfiction books (one of which I'm not reviewing here because it has not been officially released yet) and one novel.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This book -- which the author addresses to his son -- has become required reading for anyone seeking more understanding of racism and the black experience in America. Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, writes in eloquent prose of the fear he grew up with as a boy in Baltimore, his growing realization of the vulnerability and plundering of black bodies, and his adult experiences as a black man at university and overseas. A prominent theme throughout the book is "The Dreamers": his term for whites (or as he puts it, people who need to think they are white), whose picket-fence image of the American Dream relies on the exploitation of blacks to be maintained. In one striking passage, he says, 

And all those old photographs from the 1960s, all those films I beheld of black people prostrate before clubs and dogs, were not simply shameful, indeed were not shameful at all -- they were simply true. We are captured, brother, surrounded by the majoritarian bandits of America. And this has happened here, in our only home, and the terrible truth is that we cannot will ourselves to an escape on our own. Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the [black protest] movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world.

Strong words -- but any attempt to grapple with racial issues requires that we step out of our comfort zones and really listen to different voices. I'm very glad I read this book. It's poetic, heartbreaking, challenging, and eye-opening. A must-read.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. 
Sheryl Sandberg is a top executive at Facebook (and formerly at Google) and wrote the bestselling book Lean In, which encourages working women to pursue leadership roles. Option B was written in response to the sudden death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, at the age of 48. In this book Sandberg draws on lessons she learned from her friend and co-author, psychologist Adam Grant, about working through grief and loss, giving and accepting support, helping children through trauma, and creating more resilient families and communities.

Sandberg has been criticized in the past for being elitist in her discussion of women in the workplace and failing to understand the challenges facing single working women. Here she addresses some of this, acknowledging that she had lacked awareness of how hard it was to parent without a partner. She also acknowledges the enormous financial advantages she possesses as a highly-paid executive; while these did not compensate for her loss, they made her process easier in some practical ways. Besides describing her own journey, which she does in an honest, straightforward style, Sandberg makes a point of addressing bigger-picture issues like health care, child care, and job security. 

I enjoyed this book very much. It might not be well-suited for those who are in the midst of acute grief, but it could be very useful for people who are looking for a way to move forward or are trying to support someone else through loss.

The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker. 
I read Shawn Smucker's blog (including his poetry) fairly regularly so was intrigued to hear that he was publishing a Young Adult novel. In this compelling book, a young boy named Sam loses his mother in a freak accident. When he learns about the Tree of Life from Genesis, he tries to locate it, with the help of his friend Abra, so that he can bring his mother back to life. In the course of this quest, he finds himself caught up in a cosmic battle that tests his courage and his loyalty and teaches him a hard lesson -- that perhaps we are not meant to live forever and that Death can be a gift. 

Smucker frames the tale by interspersing chapters from the perspective of elderly Sam, who is preparing to attend a funeral; this technique adds richness to the story. He draws us into a fully-realized world that looks, smells, and feels exactly like ours -- but that is shimmering with magic, mystery, and powerful unseen forces. 

I would recommend this book for readers 10 to adult, with caution about the younger end of that scale depending on what the child is used to reading: there are some scary moments, and the overall tone is heavy and dark, though hopeful. It is not an easy read, and it's a little confusing at times; I had trouble figuring out some of the twists myself. But it is a well-written, suspenseful novel that conveys weighty themes in beautiful, vivid prose. A sequel is in the works as well. 

(Note: I received an advance electronic copy of this book and was asked to provide an honest review.)

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