Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson

“Our bodies carry memory – not just our own, but the memory of the group as well. We feel the history in our bones as much as we witness it with our eyes.” 

This is just one of the many profound quotes in Long Time Coming, the latest publication by Michael Eric Dyson, a distinguished scholar of race and religion, as well as a prolific, New York Times bestselling author. In this short, powerful book, Dyson considers how race has shaped our nation from its very founding, tapping into both historical and contemporary insights to guide readers on how we can truly reckon with race in America.

The profundity of this text impacts readers from the very beginning, as each chapter is a letter addressed to a black martyr of racial injustice, including Elijah McClain, Emmett Till, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Hadiya Pendleton, Sandra Bland, and Rev. Clementa Pinckney. In each letter, Dyson considers significant aspects and examples of injustice plaguing Black Americans, relating how the systemic racism inherently planted to enable slavery still permeates today’s society in a myriad of ways. This book  is also extremely timely, as the title itself denotes the momentum of a cultural and social movement, one that has been a long time coming, that spilled over after the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Since then, powerful and reverberating calls for change and reform to achieve true justice for all have been a large part of the history being made today, not unlike the passionate calls for change that occurred in the 1960s.

When reflecting on this book as a whole, one particularly striking moment for me was Dyson’s metaphor of racism illustrated through a tree and its offshoots. When considering the idea of racism as either a seed that is planted or one that merely falls to the ground, thereby growing into both intentional and unintentional forms of racism, he depicts how the change that must occur is bigger than any individual’s thoughts or actions regarding race. Rather, Dyson contends this change must be structural in order to truly combat the cyclical nature of racism and the notions of Anti-Blackness in our country. After drawing this comparison, Dyson ponders whether a reckoning of this scale will occur in today’s world to bring true justice and equity to Black Americans.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book for everyone to read. Not only is it accessible in length and language, but it also delivers an earnest, compelling, and passionate message of racial justice that could not be timelier for the history being made today.

*On this topic of racial justice, I also wanted to share a new resource recently added to the Davenport Public Library website for those interested in finding more books about social justice. Titled “Social Justice Reads,” this guide features new and notable titles in our collection for many types of social justice issues, such as racial equity, LGBTQ+ rights, environmental justice, and women’s rights. This guide will be continually updated to showcase and reflect the newest titles regarding social justice added to our collection. You can access the guide here.*

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Do you have authors whose new books you anxiously await? I’m sure you do. One of the newest authors I have added to this list is Stuart Turton. Turton wrote The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastlewhich was published in 2018. That book is a mix of an Agatha Christie novel and the movie Groundhog Day as readers learn that Evelyn Hardcastle keeps dying and Aiden must solve her murder or relive the day over and over. It kept me engaged from start to finish, so when I learned that Turton had a new book coming out at the end of 2020, I knew I wanted to read it.

The Devil in the Dark Water is Turton’s latest novel and it’s a gloriously written complex historical mystery telling the story of people trapped on a ship traveling across the high seas to Amsterdam. Stuck on a ship means that there has to be a bad guy and, OH BOY, are they bad! It’s a bit of a closed room mystery mixed with Sherlock Holmes and a strong dab of history. Read it and let me know what you think. Let’s get into this review!

It’s 1634. Samuel Pipps is the world’s greatest detective, traveling the world with his bodyguard Arent Hayes solving cases that no one can solve. He sees things others miss and can easily figure out the answer to whatever is plaguing him in a case. Arent believes Sammy is gifted and can solve anything. When Sammy ends up being arrested for a crime he may not have committed, Arent is devastated. The two end up boarding a ship to Amsterdam where Sammy is locked away in a small dark and musty cell. He is being transported to Amsterdam to stand trial for his crimes and Arent’s job to keep him safe becomes immensely harder.

As soon as they head out to sea, issues start to plague the ship. Devilry wreaks havoc on the ship and passengers and crew alike are scared. Pipps is shackled inside his cell, leaving Arent to solve the mystery without him. A leper who should have been dead is stalking the ship. Livestock is brutally killed. A strange symbol connected to Arent’s past starts showing up all over the ship.

When the deaths start, panic reaches a fever pitch. Could a demon be responsible for everything happening on board the ship? Voices whisper to people promising their heart’s desire for a small price. Arent needs help solving this mystery and reaches out to other passengers he deems safe. Multiple passengers are connected to this mystery with past secrets and hidden questions that threaten to sink the ship, killing everyone onboard.

This book is also available in the following format:

Let’s Talk by David Crystal

I live for well-written books that explain how the world works and/or give tips on how to build up or improve skills. My latest discovery in this genre is 2020’s Let’s Talk: How English Conversation Works by David Crystal. This slim, well-written volume breaks down the conventions and nuances of conversations in clear, simple language with lots of examples. Here’s how the publisher describes it:

Banter, chit-chat, gossip, natter, tete-a-tete: these are just a few of the terms for the varied ways in which we interact with one another through conversation. David Crystal explores the factors that motivate so many different kinds of talk and reveals the rules we use unconsciously, even in the most routine exchanges of everyday conversation. We tend to think of conversation as something spontaneous, instinctive, habitual. It has been described as an art, as a game, sometimes even as a battle. Whichever metaphor we use, most people are unaware of what the rules are, how they work, and how we can bend and break them when circumstances warrant it.

Crystal does very well at writing out and explaining the hidden, unwritten rules that underlie all our everyday interactions, leading to many ‘aha’ moments while reading that made me say “Wow, we really do do that!” His source materials and examples are particularly compelling, drawn from his 1970s recordings of authentic informal conversations as well as other modern examples. He also makes the text readable and interesting with relatively short chapters and engaging, well-written text. He tends to be academic, delving into the history of conversation in English and using some linguistics jargon (and he also writes his own take on a battle rap) but overall he shares relevant, useful, or interesting tidbits about how people talk to each other.

For me personally, as an English language and literature nerd, this book was fascinating and enlightening; I felt like an extraterrestrial anthropologist studying the communication habits of humanity (and the book’s British English was charming and familiar from my favorite UK shows)! This book would be good for other language or history nerds, social science enthusiasts, those for whom English isn’t their first language (though strong familiarity with the language is helpful), and anyone who enjoys talking to people and/or wants to have better conversations and relationships.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham. – ANNA SEWELL, Black Beauty

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes is the embodiment of the above quote. The town of Baileyville, Kentucky is not what Alice Wright expected. Growing up in England, all Alice wanted was to get away from her stifling life and her narrow minded parents.  When she met Bennett Van Cleve, a handsome American who promised her a thrilling life away, Alice married him and left. Traveling across the world and eventually ending up in Baileyville, Kentucky, Alice has stars in her eyes about her new life and all the wonderous things she can do.

Baileyville does not live up to her expectations. It quickly becomes claustrophobic as Alice and Bennett are forced to live with Bennett’s overbearing father. Struggling to carve out a life for herself separate than that of her domineering father-in-law and away from the judgmental eyes of the local townsfolk, Alice wants so much more than this life has. When the opportunity to join the team of women delivering books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library appears, Alice promptly signs up.

Beginning to work with the team, Alice learns more about their daily lives and the motivations for why(and how) each ended up with the horseback librarians. The leader of the local horseback librarians is Margery, a woman who quickly becomes Alice’s friend and, more importantly, her ally. Margery has always lived on the outskirts as a self-sufficient, self-confident, and quick-witted woman who has never asked for a man’s permission to do anything. Margery, Alice, and three other women become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky and start bringing books, magazines, recipes, and information to families who desperately need them.

The women are clearly the focus in this novel, but the relationships with the men they love quickly show how compassion, loyalty, humanity, and justice are all necessary components to life in Baileyville, but whether or not the townspeople follow them is another story altogether. Although these women are working hard to provide a necessary service to people, the community doesn’t support their efforts entirely. The dangers these women face grow everyday as they travel the mountainside to bring books and materials to people who have never had any. Apparently giving the community access to facts and information is offensive to some and those people will stop at nothing to end the packhorse librarians for good.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

A life no one will remember. A story you will never forget.

The tagline for V.E. Schwab’s latest book The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of the best I’ve seen at perfectly distilling a book down to its essence. V.E. Schwab is mostly known for her children’s and young adult fiction that she published under the name Victoria Schwab, but The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue  is a wonderful addition to historical fantasy for adults that you’ll want to cozy up and read as soon as you can get a copy.

France, 1714. Addie LaRue is desperate. Growing up in a small town in France, Addie thought she had successfully avoided marriage until she is promised to a man with young children. Knowing if she marries him she will be live and die in this same small town, Addie manages to slip away before her wedding. Stumbling in her desperation, Addie kneels in the woods and prays for freedom to a god who only answers after dark. This god, or is he a devil, answers Addie’s call and makes a deal with her that she so desperately wants. Over time, Addie learns the limits of the deal and regrets it: she will live forever, but she will be forgotten by every single person she meets. Every time they turn away, every time they close a door, Addie will slip from their memory, a person or a thought always just out of reach. She will spend her years traveling the world, never quite feeling at home anywhere, and never able to make her mark on the world. Addie must get creative in order to leave her legacy as she visits artists of all types and notices that the seven freckles that dot her cheeks can be found throughout history, like a scattering of stars.

Flash forward 300 years. Addie is searching for something new, anything new that will shake up what she’s already discovered in her 300 years. Walking the streets of New York, she yearns. Suddenly, Addie finds a bookstore that she has never seen before. In it, a boy named Henry will change her life with three little words, ‘I remember you’.

Those three words. How is it possible? Did Luc, the god who made her deal, mess up? He must have. She yearns to be remembered, yearns to belong to someone. She has found the one her soul has been searching for after 300 years. Both Henry and Addie have been yearning for years to not be alone, though Henry’s life has been considerably shorter than Addie’s, but his desire is just as strong. Wanting to feel that connection while they have been alone for all this time is something pressed deep into their souls. Addie and Henry are fearful of what they’ve discovered, that fear running strong in Addie as the anniversary of her deal approaches. Knowing that Luc may show up at any second, whenever the mood hits him, Addie is desperate that Henry remember as much of her life as he can before Luc makes him forget.

This novel tore me apart. It’s not a thriller or a swift ride through the characters’ lives. Instead Schwab introduces both Addie and Henry’s lives in a wonderfully leisurely way, one where readers get to know the characters as they work through whatever newness they uncover. Schwab mixes the past with the present, switching between long stretches of Addie’s 300 years with Henry’s exquisitely awkward and painful shorter life. These moments are presented in a way that tugs at your heart as you wish for peace and comfort for both Henry and Addie in the end.

This book is also available in the following formats:

They Went Left by Monica Hesse

Monica Hesse is one of my favorite young adult authors, my go-to when I need historical mystery fiction. Warning: her books cover heavy topics, which may not be something that you can handle right now.  Somehow I missed her newest release that came out in April 2020, so I spent a weekend reading They Went Left . This book discusses the Holocaust, World War II, and surviving post-war.

They  Went Left by Monica Hesse begins with the liberation of concentration camps in Germany 1945. The soldiers who liberated told the survivors that the war was over, but it didn’t seem like that to them. Eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman is in a hospital trying to recover and heal, so that she can start searching for her younger brother. Her mind and body are broken, but she must find Abek. Abek and Zofia were separated three years ago from the rest of their family. Abek and Zofia went right, while everyone else went left to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Their parents, grandma, and their Aunt Maja all went left. When Zofia and Abek were eventually separated, Zofia promised to find him again, no matter what.

Flash forward three years and Zofia feels the deep urge to find Abek. Relying initially on the help from others, Zofia travels to various places across post-war Europe desperately searching for any sign of Abek. As she searches, Zofia slowly begins to rebuild the remains of her destroyed life. Her mind and body begin to heal as she looks for answers and starts to open up to other survivors.

This book is also available in the following format:

Great Podcasts: Storytelling

To be honest, I’m notoriously fickle when it comes to podcasts. I can’t seem to remember to listen to them, because I just haven’t figured out how to work them into my everyday routine. But I know it’s a great medium with a lot of die-hard fans, so I keep trying, and there are a few I really like, even if I’m nowhere near caught up on any of them. The Adventure Zone, which you might remember my recommending in an earlier post, is a big one. Two other podcasts, which I’ll share with you today, both revolve around history, sharing little-known facts and crafting interesting narratives out of them. Quick disclaimer: I’ve only listened to bits of these, so I can’t vouch for all the content they contain. You may know lots more about podcasts than I do – and if you do, please share your tips and recommendations in the comments! These podcasts are available on their own websites, as well as Spotify, iTunes, and other podcast platforms.

The Myths and Legends Podcast

This podcast is about what it sounds like: each episode, the host tells a different story from the realms of myths and legends. Some of the stories he shares are little-known myths from countries around the world, and sometimes he shares the original myth behind a now-famous story like Aladdin or Mulan. He tells the story in a conversational and engaging way, with modern asides, and each episode also features a profile of a different mythical creature, which may or may not be drawn from that episode’s main story. Sometimes the stories are funny, sometimes they’re gruesome or tragic, but for me they’re always intriguing, entertaining, and I always learn something new. If you like myths, legends, fairy tales, fantasy, or Disney, you may like this podcast.

The British History Podcast

Again, the name is fairly self-explanatory. The host takes on the massive job of telling the story of Britain’s history — from the beginning. The VERY beginning. Starting from its most ancient roots, he tells the story of the individuals, groups, and events that drove British history forward. Like the Myths and Legends podcast, the stories are explained in modern terms and delivered in a straightforward, conversational style. I really like the way he makes historical people relatable, fascinating, and sympathetic, bridging the huge gap of centuries between them and us. If you’re an Anglophile like me, or just a history buff, this may be a good podcast for you.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.”

In the bestselling book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the title The Warmth of Other Suns, draws parallels between the often-unspoken caste system in the United States with those of India and Nazi Germany to elucidate the innate, systemic racism that is intentionally rooted and entwined in the history and core foundations of our country. This work combines deep, immersive research and moving narratives, such as Wilkerson’s own experiences, to express and relate how this invisible hierarchy affects the opportunities, safety, and day-to-day life of black Americans today.

Wilkerson first shines a light on current events, painting a disturbing picture. She describes the escalating racial tensions in America as “pathogens” or “toxins” that were never completely eradicated with the end of slavery or the implementation of civil rights legislation, but were rather buried beneath the surface in the “permafrost” until certain circumstances brought them back to the surface. She then considers the arbitrary construction of human divisions across America, as well as in India and Nazi Germany, before exploring eight distinct pillars of caste she believes are the foundations of the caste system in the United States.

After elaborating upon these powerful pillars, ranging from topics of divine will and endogamy to dehumanization and stigma, Wilkerson discusses the “tentacles” and consequences of the caste system lingering in the lives of black Americans today. One of the most telling parts of this book for me was learning about the many forms of backlash that transpired after President Barack Obama’s election and re-election, as many claimed the accomplishment of a black man in the Oval Office was a sign that racism was “dead.” This could not be further from the truth.

Lastly, Wilkerson calls for an awakening and the need for action in order to combat the dangerous, debilitating, and ever-present caste system preserving and prolonging systemic racism in the United States and has a strong response to those who dismiss racism based on the reasoning that it isn’t “their fault,” or the fault of their ancestors:

We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now. And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands.”

Overall, this title is extraordinarily written as Wilkerson writes in a compelling, thoughtful, and revealing way about this subject, and if you are looking for a raw, honest, and thought-provoking title to learn more about the origins of systemic racism in America, I would wholeheartedly recommend picking up this book.

This book is also available in the following formats:

OverDrive eAudiobook

OverDrive eBook

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds

“This book, this not history history book, this present book, is meant to take you on a race journey from then to now, to show why we feel how we feel, why we live how we live, and why this poison, whether recognizable or unrecognizable, whether it’s a scream or a whisper, just won’t go away.”

Described as a book containing history and rooted in the here and now, rather than as a traditional history book students read in school, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds is an adaptation or remix of a longer work by Ibram X. Kendi (Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America). Written to be more accessible to younger audiences, this work presents a history of racism in America, drawing parallels to how racist notions and theories that have been perpetuated in centuries past still strongly pervade America today with deep, toxic roots in the very infrastructure, policies, and foundations of the country.

Divided into five sections highlighting different periods of history, spanning from 1415 to the present day, this title explores a multitude of historically significant people, events, movements, and ideas that have actively disseminated or combated racist theories and practices in America. Within this exploration, there are three types of people who are specifically defined and deemed crucial to understanding when considering racism: (1) segregationists, which Reynolds colloquially terms “the haters;” (2) assimilationists, or those who are accepting of Black people when they are more like White people; and (3) antiracists, or those who love Black people for who they are.

Overall, this title is eye-opening, enlightening, and extremely educational, in addition to being very accessible to read. It is also a very timely and important read in light of the growing racial and social justice movements occurring in our own time, as well as in response to the many conversations that are starting to explicate and explore the racial dynamics in existence today within the United States. I definitely plan to read Kendi’s longer work, which was a National Book Award Winner in 2016, but would highly recommend this adaptation for everyone and anyone, especially teenagers and young adults, as Reynolds is an absolute delight to read. This book is available in the following formats:

Book on CD

Overdrive eAudiobook

Overdrive eBook

Academic Overdrive eBook

Playaway

Virtual Book Club – ‘The Night Tiger’ on August 19th

On Wednesday, August 19th, at 2pm, Virtual Book Club will be discussing The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo. We are using GoTo Meeting which will allow patrons to video chat with the librarian about the book! More information about how to join is listed below.

Curious what the book is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

Ji Lin is an apprentice dressmaker, moonlighting as a dance-hall girl to pay her mother’s mahjong debts. When one of her dance partners leaves behind a gruesome souvenier, Ji Lin plunges into a world of secrets and superstitions. Eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy Ren is trying to find his master’s severed finger and bury with his body, or his master’s soul will wander the earth forever. As both young people go on their quests, unexplained deaths plague their district in 1930s colonial Malaysia.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Virtual Book Club
Wed, Aug 19, 2020 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (CDT)

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/160996525

You can also dial in using your phone.
United States: +1 (646) 749-3112

Access Code: 160-996-525

New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts:
https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/160996525