When I was small, my grandparents had a console TV with a framed photo sitting on top – right about eye level to a child. In the photo my grandfather, in uniform, sat astride a huge black horse. I was told he was in the Cavalry in World War I, but I had no idea what that meant.
Sure, you’ve heard of the current bestsellers, but what about books from previous years that you never had a chance to read? Rediscover some great titles you may have missed.
What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race In America by Michael Eric Dyson (St. Martin's Press, 2018)
In May 1963, Robert F. Kennedy called for a meeting with James Baldwin, one of the most powerful voices of the civil rights movement. Baldwin brought the singers Lena Horne and Harry Belafonte, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, scholar Kenneth Clark, and freedom rider Jerome Smith. Kennedy expected a polite, deferential meeting, but his guests weren’t willing to be patient
and work on policies. Smith was recovering from a savage beating by white supremacists; Baldwin and his friends angrily gave witness to “blackness seen through the prism of pain and trauma.”
Describing the bond between people and their dogs could fill an entire library; my three favorite books involve a combination of scientific observation and simple affection.
You’re Not From Around Here, Are You? : a Lesbian in Small-Town America by Louise A. Blum (University of Wisconsin Press, 2001)
I’d never consider living in a small town, and when my wife and I drive past or through one, I usually comment that I’d go crazy if I lived there. I’d miss the diversity of race, religion, sexual orientation, the cultural events, and relative tolerance for lesbians and gays. A lot has changed since Blum wrote her book in 2001, notably the ability for me to say “my wife” legally, but I’m sure the attitudes in her small town are still slow to catch up.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones opens with the author driving down the highway, crying, screaming, with a gun on the car seat beside him, headed toward revenge. Then we’re pulled back into the childhood of that wounded man, a story told so well that by the time we come to that scene’s resolution, we’ve almost forgotten it.
Blue Horses (New York: Penguin Press, 2014) is a slight book of deceptively simple poems, “something/inexplicable/made plain” as Mary Oliver says in “What We Want.” It’s only when you think further into them that you realize these poems have a lot to say. Oliver’s spirituality, like her imagery, springs from the natural world and the senses.
A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
I didn’t plan to review this book, but halfway through my reading, news broke of the Parkland, Florida shooting. So, sadly, the topic is freshly relevant.
How much of our gender shows in the way we act, dress, move, speak? How much comes from others’ perceptions? How many of our life choices are constrained by sexism and racism? As I read Jackie Kay’s novel Trumpet, these questions swirled in my head.
They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine
Growing older, taking care of an aging spouse, learning to live alone -- I don’t know how Cathleen Schine wrings humor from these experiences, but she does. They May Not Mean To, But They Do is filled with hilarious and very human details, and it is a novel I savored.