Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When reading lists collide

Wrapping up my gardening reading list halfway into February should still leave me with a pretty good start date for my Black History month reading. Planned books include Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow: an organizing guide by Daniel Hunter, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington, The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood by bell hooks, Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery by Leon F. Litwack, as well as poetry by Maya Angelou and probably the comic will be Book III of March, but I haven't ruled out reading some Luke Cage.

Yes, it is a pretty ambitious list, so I knew I would still be going into March for sure, but that's not terrible.

There is just one complicating factor, because of the new president.

I know I am not the only one with this issue. Not only are many people finding this a good time to read George Orwell's 1984, but someone asked me about Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, and I noticed that there were several library holds on that as well. We are trying to find frames of reference and important information and reminders for how we deal with this. I get it.

I have read those two. I didn't love 1984, but I remember enough to understand why it is important - especially in this age of alternative facts. I do not doubt that if I picked it up again I would find it appallingly prescient. But I am drawn more to things I haven't read.

Silent Spring was excellent, and with oil people in charge of the EPA (fracking in national parks anyone?) and deleted pages on climate change, reading the wake up call that went out before we even had an EPA makes sense. However, I have read it, so when he says that any new regulation will require the lifting of two old regulations, that makes me want to read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

There are a couple of interesting things about that. One is that Sinclair was concerned about the conditions of the workers, but readers responded more to the personal dangers they faced in eating this food. Self-interest remains a problem, but it also remains true that treating any group of people wrong tends to spill over. I would love for people to care about others in general, but okay, fine, do it for yourself too.

The other interesting thing is really how new some of these reforms are. The Jungle and the Meat Inspection Act it inspired were both 1906, and that's the oldest part of it. The Environmental Protection Agency wasn't formed until 1970 - which means that when you had James Watt over the Interior, the EPA had only had a decade to try and get anything done. Challenges to the 1965 Voting Rights Act started right away, but it was more obviously catastrophic just now, when the Supreme Court ruled that racism wasn't a factor anymore and struck down protections.

(Even though the 1924 Child Labor Amendment was never ratified, we had gotten to the point where we were mostly against child labor, but our new education secretary thinks children can pick up valuable experience in coal mines, so we'll see.)

The first thing that I needed to read was The Impossible Will Take a Little While: Perseverance and Hope in Troubled Times, a collection of writings assembled by Paul Rogat Loeb. I needed some reminders of hope, especially coming from people who had seen bad times. Inspired by the stolen election of 2000, and that government's reaction to 9/11, it's hard to imagine a better mindset for what we would need now. There was hope, in some ways just in the reminder that you have to be able to give up hope of succeeding and then do it anyway. I recommend that book a lot.

One of the books it referenced was Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul Alinsky. I think I might need that. Add it to the list. An article referenced The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. It sounded pertinent from the title alone, but there was a quote that really struck me too. I need that.

I've never read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, but with so many people hating any kind of reproductive freedom - including birth control pills to prevent debilitating pain being a reasonably-insured medical need - maybe it's time to read that.

I'm not sure why I think I should read Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Maybe it's the double-talk or the anti-war message, but I am going to read it.

I had found Tim Weiner's account of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, really informative, but also really long. When I saw he had an FBI history, Enemies, I was probably always going to read it, but after the things that happened with Comey, that's moving up.

And that can circle back to the Black History month reading, because I do not know enough about COINTELPRO and I'm sure it gets at least some coverage.

It's just a lot of books. Add to that my catching up on various comics, and I don't know how long I will be in here, or when I will be reporting back on them (other than Goodreads reviews as each is completed).

This does mean it will be a little while until I get to the pre-Italy list, the second half of the drawing list, and the books I have just always wanted to read list. If I can get those and the comics caught up by November, when it is time for another round of Native American Heritage reading, I will feel pretty good about that.  Obviously Caldecott winners and the making-up-for-things-I-missed-in-school list are not happening this year. That's okay.

I don't need to know everything about everything to be an alert and active citizen now. It's like the gardening list in that way.

I do know that it makes a difference. When I saw the election results, I had just been reading about the failure to ratify equal rights for women and child labor. I was listening to music by Native American artists and reading books about their history. I'm sure it would have been chilling anyway, but I also know that seeking out things outside of my experience gives me greater perspective. I want that. I want it for more people, but I can only really make it happen for me, so I am doing that.

Like the impossible, the reading will take a little while. I am okay with that.

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