“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”
— Max de Pree
I’ve been selecting a book to read each month from A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.
February featured comedian, Aziz Ansari, and his take on Modern Romance.
March was a particular favorite read of mine on the topic of justice with Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.
Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from April: Creative Spirit.
Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo
I am at my core, a lover of memoir. I am in awe of fiction writers as I personally find it difficult to write fiction. I often think the truth is stranger than fiction and many of the craziest scenes or details in fiction books come from truth. For example, in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, there’s a bit about a dead hippo the ringmaster keeps parading about during the circus, pretending the hippo is swimming in its tank. The hippo was in formaldehyde, and Gruen learned about the trick from a past employee of a real, traveling circus.
What Harjo has done with her memoir, Crazy Brave, is phenomenal, and as A Year of Reading suggests, it should be read aloud.
A well recognized poet, Harjo’s memoir encompasses story, lyric, and poem.
Overview from Goodreads:
In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary.
I’m discovering more and more lyric novels lately. Books that tell a story, but do so partially, or completely, in poetry format. Rising authors like Jason Reynolds are doing so, using spoken word to communicate his tale. And in my own neck of the woods, artist and author Mai Chao shared the story of her Hmoob parents fleeing the Secret War, living in a refugee camp, and immigrating to America, in her beautiful lyric novel, Gathering Fireflies.
Harjo’s work is partially written in verse, and part traditional storytelling. It is beautifully oriented around directions (north, south, east, west), and place (her home of Oklahoma).
This book was a decadent treat for the wordsmith in me. Harjo’s writing comes from a place of loss, misdirection, and unknowing followed by the grace of time, perspective, and truth. In her own words:
“A story matrix connects all of us.
There are rules, processes, and circles of responsibility in this world. And the story begins exactly where it is supposed to begin. We cannot skip any part.”
― Joy Harjo,
I recommend Crazy Brave for any artists out there. Harjo’s story, and her work, is utmost about resilience, and it inspired me. And for bookworms, if you haven’t yet checked out a lyric novel or memoir, consider this a jewel of an introduction to the craft.
It really should be read aloud.
Have you ever checked out a lyric piece of work?
What did you think of the genre?
What other books for artists, or on creativity, do you recommend?
I’m behind on blogging about my reading challenge.
Ok, let’s be honest, I’m behind on blogging in general. Transitions, yo. I’m taking it easy.
Something I’ve enjoyed so far this year has been picking a title each month from the book A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.
Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from March: Justice.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
I’m a big nonfiction reading fan. I love memoirs and biographies, so I was gripped right away by Stevenson’s writing. Threaded throughout the book is Stevenson’s involvement with the Walter McMillian case, meetings they had, court appearances and processes, interviews with family and witnesses, and police involvement. Intertwined amongst this case are stories of many cases Stevenson worked on that portray how he got his start into the battle of death row cases, and how his work would shape his path from then on. The writing kept my attention because you learn more about Stevenson and his work in chunks of casework, but there’s also this ongoing saga of what’s happening with Walter.
Stevenson began his own nonprofit practice that focuses on helping minorities and underage victims of the criminal justice system, specifically those placed on death row. His book is an intimate look at capital punishment law and how many people, guilty or not, end up on death row. He uncovers all kinds of issues within the system, such as tampering with evidence, tampering with jury selection, and larger social issues of racism and economic status.
I was first made aware of racism in the justice system after attending a local talk led by my city’s League of Women Voters chapter. In the talk, we looked at racial disparities in our court system in my own city of La Crosse, Wisconsin, as well as nationally and internationally. Once you see those numbers, it’s kind of hard to ‘unsee’ them. You’ve got to know there’s a problem.
I witnessed it myself during my months working as a public health educator and teaching at the juvenile detention center. For the percentage of minority populations in my city, there’s a disproportionate amount of teens of color (mainly black and biracial teens) being sent to juvie.
As a country, we are largely punishing people of color in more violent manners than we are their white counterparts. Since that eye opening talk several years ago, I’ve been active in starting up a local chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), where white folks put in the time and work and energy of educating themselves on the issues, partnering and learning from people of color led organizations, and working to create change.
It’s upsetting to me that so many people are still (color) blind to the issue, or simply unwilling to discuss it. Today, for example, a (white) friend of mine is in court contesting a fine she and her daughter each received for writing messages of inclusivity and peace in SIDEWALK CHALK outside a public space. The city fined her almost $1000 between the original fine and restitution saying they spent seven hours washing off SIDEWALK CHALK that took her less than an hour to write. ???
You can read about her case here, but it’s clear from the way the city alderman addressed the issue, that the problem wasn’t really with the chalk (though that is what they fined her for, however there are chalk messages all around the city now that have not been washed away). The problem was with her messages.
Messages that were written were, “Black Lives Matter,” “You Are Standing On Ho-Chunk Land,” “I Stand For Love,” “Peace Be Unto You: As-Salaam-Alaikum,” “You Are Welcome Here,” “The Time For Racial Justice is Now” and “There is Enough For Everyone.”
I stand with my friend and her messages of inclusivity and diversity as strength. I highly encourage everyone to read more about systemic racism, as we all play a role in it when we don’t actively unlearn and fight against it.
Just Mercy is a phenomenal book that tackles racism in the judicial system. And the most powerful part of the whole read are Stevenson’s thoughts on mercy. Given the many examples of hate we can see every day on the news, or right in our own hometowns, it’s more important than ever to question our own biases. I hope you’ll grab a copy of Stevenson’s work as I found it incredibly thought provoking, emotional, and timely.
A few of my favorite quotes:
“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
“I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”
“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and-perhaps-we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
Have you read Just Mercy yet? Or perhaps another title about racial justice?
What are your thoughts?
How many of you have a stack of books you’re planning to read? Someday, right? And how many of you add to that list every year? I’m with you! I needed to know what happened in the Lunar Chronicles too!
That’s why I love the reading challenge created by Estella’s Revenge called #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks. I joined up last year and read 38 out of 131 books. I think I started with double that amount on the shelves (and floor), but one of the books I read was The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and I sold/gave away 125 books.
I’ve created my current bookshelf list for 2017, should you wish to peruse my shelves.
(And it’s safe to say I’ll be doing this reading challenge for years to come, because let’s face it, I will keep buying books. But now, I do read more that I currently own versus buying QUITE so many.)
I’m also using the book A Year of Reading to diversify what I read this year. This guidebook separates each month with a theme and gives six different book ideas for that theme. I love its diversity in authors and in genre.
It’s inclusive of authors of color, something I was looking to include more of this year in my reading, and the genre options include fiction and nonfiction, but also more marginalized categories like graphic novels, poetry, and short story anthologies.
The themes range from serious to fun, with a mix of genre styles within them. January was all about happiness, so very timely for that new year, new you vibe.
This month, I completed The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman.
Kalman’s book is different than most books I’ve read because it is also an art book. The pages are her colorful paintings and photography of people, places, and things that catch her eye – whether passing by on the street or musing over a historical figure.
This is a book you could read in a day. But I chose not to. I wanted to savor it.
On a surface level, it’s an easy book to read for reading’s sake. But I wanted to muse along with her. Sometimes I learned about a historical figure, or a family member of hers, or even the intricacy of a tassel on a chair. So what you really get out of Kalman’s book is that happiness is found in the little things. The day to day moments where we stop. And just look. Just listen.
What reading challenges are you doing this year, formal or otherwise?
What books have you read recently that made you think?