2018 TBR Pile Challenge

July Checkpoint! #TBR2018RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

We are now 7-months into the best reading challenge of all-time! (Yes, I might be biased.) I am thrilled to see that we’ve got 160+ reviews already posted! I know a lot of you have made some amazing progress on your lists and others are, like me, struggling a bit. Wherever you are at this point, good on you! The first goal is to have fun and to read some good books, right? The bonus is being able to finally knock some of those long-lingering books from your shelves. Even one or two is a win! 

We didn’t quite hit last month’s goal, so how about a re-do? It is summer after all. Do I dare challenge you all to get us to TWO HUNDRED linked-up reviews by the next checkpoint? Let’s try! 

Question of the Month: If you could recommend one book that you have read from your TBR Pile list this year, which one would it be and why? 


My Progress: 4 of 12 Completed / 4 of 12 Reviewed

Didion-WhiteI’ve read and reviewed 4 of my 12 required books. Yeah, you read that right. I’m way behind. I’ve made zero progress since last month. I’m going to commit right now to reading and reviewing AT LEAST TWO more from my list by next checkpoint, though, because that will put me to the half-way mark, which is something. The semester also starts up again in late-August, at which point all bets are off and I’ll be lucky to read one book a month. 

Over the next month, I should have time for reading and writing. I especially hope to get to these books on my “Summer Reading List,” some of which are on my TBR challenge list and some of which are on my Classics Club list. As for my TBR Pile challenge, the next two books I have coming up are: Joan Didion’s The White Album and Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson. Wish me luck!

My completed reads:

How are you doing?

index

Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated! At the end of the challenge, all entires will go into one big raffle for the $50 book prize! 

MINI-CHALLENGE #3

As promised last month, this month’s checkpoint comes with another mini-challenge! There is just one requirement: read a book from your list, write a review for it, and link-it up! When you’ve done this, go ahead and leave a comment right here on this post to let everyone know you’ve made some progress and are eligible for the mini-challenge prize! Speaking of which, one randomly selected “winner” will receive a book of their choice, up to $20USD, from The Book Depository. Good luck and happy reading! 

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS 

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Blog Post, Fun, writing

A Novel Journal

Every so often, I stumble across something that gets me so excited I simply must share it with the world. Or at least you all, who comprise my little world! One example of this is probably The Folio Society editions that I share every so often here on the blog.

But something new caught my eye recently while I was wandering around my local Barnes & Noble book store, as I do a few times every week. It’s a series of writing journals called “A Novel Journal,” released by Canterbury Classics.

Here’s how the publisher describes them: “Whether fueling the next great literary masterpiece, or simply adding a sense of tribute to daily journaling, these literary keepsakes bring an element of fun and culture to any writing project. Fashioned with colorful endpapers, color edges, and matching elastic bands to keep covers closed and pages intact, Novel Journals are ideal for gifting and collecting.”

So, here’s the thing. If you are a writer and a reader who, like me, often feels torn between his “loyalty” to one or the other (AM I WRITER? AM I A READER!?), these journals are literally the best of both worlds. Why? Well, not only are they beautiful, and not only do they have an excellent “finger feel,” and not only do they represent the greatest books of all time, with a well-selected quote from said books right there on the cover, but the lines of the journal are actually made up of the entire text of its representative novel, in tiny print! 

Obviously, I couldn’t resist. I was going to get one or two, but ended up leaving the store with five of them. I definitely added a whole bunch more to my wish list, and I plan to pick up at least two more very soon. (It was also fortunate for my wallet that Barnes & Noble had these on clearance!)

The other fabulous element to these journals is the artwork/design on the inside covers, as well as the front-page that explains the selected book and leaves a place for the journal owner to put their name and information. Here’s a look at the insides of the ones I purchased, and in case the image is too small to read, the text inside the font page says, for example, “This journal belongs to ____ and is shared with Edgar Allan Poe.” How delightful is that!?

Ultimately, as I said, I ended up with five (pictured below). But I hope to go back for PETER PAN and WALT WHITMAN this weekend because they were beautiful and I’ve been thinking about them all week!

Thoreau’s WALDEN and Carroll’s ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND

 

 

 

 

Wilde’s PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY and Doyle’s ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

 

 

 

 

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S COLLECTED STORIES

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Book Review, Contemporary, Crime Novel, Fiction, Stephen King

The Outsider by Stephen King

The Outsider by Stephen King was one of my most anticipated releases of 2018, and one of only two books that I actually pre-ordered this year. I’ve always been a King fan, but something about the description and his development over the last couple of decades heightened my intrigue even further.

I’ve been reading quite a bit of him lately and trying to trace his themes across novels and genres. There are some common threads, and really three distinct avenues that I’ve been able to tack down, thus far: first, his interest in the psychological terror of the unknown/supernatural; second, his interest in morality and the battle of good versus evil; and finally, his interest in the ethics of humanity and the truth(s) of human nature. That said, it seems like The Outsider is in many ways a masterwork that brings together King’s three primary themes and genres, at last. While reading it, I sensed a very delicate and compelling balance between the supernatural horrors of Itand The Shining, with the moral questions embedded in pieces like The Stand and The Shawshank Redemption, and the ethical concerns of his realistic, true crime fiction like “The Body” and Joyland. It is all here, working together almost seamlessly to deliver what is certainly one of King’s best works to date.

The story itself centers around a man named Terry Maitland, a popular man in his small town; he works as an English teacher and coaches the Little League baseball team, currently on a winning streak. He is well-liked, trusted, and respected in the community, almost without question. And then the unthinkable happens. A young boy, one of Maitland’s baseball players, is found dead—indeed, far worse than dead—in a park, and all evidence points to Maitland as the perpetrator. Not only does the town turn on him, and with seemingly every good reason to do so, but slowly, more sinister forces begin to enter the picture as well. At first, the evil unleashed in this town seems to be the result of human nature; there is a mob mentality that develops when a crime so evil, so unspeakable is apparently perpetrated by one of the town’s most unimpeachable residents. The residents find a kind of joy, a catharsis, in bringing as much pain to bear as they possibly can against Maitland and his wife. But not all is as it seems.

After more preventable tragedies, and a lot of early assumptions, there is another murder. The modus operandi is exactly the same as the first crime, but how could this be? Maitland had an alibi for the first murder, a nearly rock-solid one. And he was already under arrest when the next happened. What could be going on in this little town? King spins an elaborate web that spans the country and, like a bizarre supernatural crime novel, the reader is introduced to new characters, new locations, and histories that play more and more significant roles in the unfolding drama and that sometimes lead in one direction, and then another, often falsely. The end might surprise some readers, while others might come to it with met expectations. I, for one, was right about something the entire time, but also completely fooled exactly twice. That made for a fun ride!

Personally, while I was disappointed in a major decision Stephen King makes in the end, and dissatisfied overall with the denouement, I still think this is one of King’s best works because it does bring together all of his best practices and the very reasons why we keep returning to King’s works. King’s characterization is also more on point and balanced in this work than in any others I can think of at the moment. He always has much to say about the human psyche and the ways in which we tend to disappoint one another when we need each other most. Even when the thrills and terrors of supernatural horrors are layered on the surface, creeping us out and giving us the thrills of the genre, it is always the very humandecisions beneath that horror which results in the actual intrigue and terror at the heart of his narratives.

In this case, the situation is somewhat reversed. The crimes committed seem disturbingly possible, and they are described in gruesome, horrifying detail. In fact, it is hard to imagine anything more terrifying than the realistic and all-too-human nature at the surface of the crimes. For that reason, I absolutely loved the first two-thirds of the book and think, had King kept going with the direction the book seems to be taking through that part of the book, it would have ended up being my new favorite. That said, what is clear is that The Outsider is undeniably Stephen King, and in fact, it is Stephen King at his very best.

Are you a Stephen King fan who has read this latest novel? If so, what did you think?

My thoughts on other Stephen King works can be found here.

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Weekly Writing Reflection, writing

A Change of Perspective

For the last few years, I have been working toward a shift in focus on this blog and in my life in general. I’ve wanted to spend more time writing, but from 2014-2016, I was working on my dissertation and that provided almost more writing than I could handle! Needless to say, I didn’t do a whole lot of work on other projects, save for a scribble or two here and there, to jot down ideas or get started. Lately, though, I have been putting much more structured focus on writing and trying to get into a writer’s mentality. This has meant that my reading output (or input?) has dropped, leaving me with less to say and do here on the blog. My reading hasn’t stopped altogether—that would be insane—but the types of reading I’m choosing has changed, and the pace at which I’m reading has slowed. This is also partly due to my profession as a college English educator who is constantly grading essays. You do 50-100 of those a week and, well, you don’t want to read much afterward!So, I’ve been trying to decide what to do with the blog in order to keep up a regular presence and also make it “make sense” with my shift in reader/writer focus. I debated with the idea of shutting it down altogether, but this blog has been with me for nearly a decade. I love it and it doesn’t feel right, at the moment, to close up shop. It might continue to evolve into something else as I spend more and more time writing, but isn’t that okay, too? At this time, I’ve decided to keep posting short reviews of books when I want (I’ve got a couple more on deck, in fact: Stephen King’s The Outsider and Bella Forrest’s The Breaker), but I will also include some WIP and general writing progress updates, perhaps once per week. I’m completing a miniature self-guided “MFA” program for writers, and one of the suggestions made in the program is ACCOUNTABILITY. This means setting a writing goal and then holding yourself accountable for what you did or did not do.I had always heard that you should never talk about your writing, you should just write, so I was a little surprised to hear about this strategy; but, like anything else, I do think it makes sense that you are much more likely to do the work if you’re not doing it entirely in secret, where there are no expectations or repercussions for laziness, slacking, and skipping. This also means my mentality and online presence have shifted/are shifting from primarily reader-centered to writer-centered. As such, as some may have already noticed, my Twitter account changed (as of today) from @RoofBeamReader to @RoofBeamWriter. I was going to change the blog name and URL, too, but I realized that would cause all sorts of problems with information that is already linked out there, and that’s simply not worth it right now. I might eventually migrate to a writer’s website/blog, but I’m comfortable staying here for now.There are a number of other suggestions from the program that I plan to follow, and I want to outline them briefly, here, as a baseline for myself (and if there are any other writers out there who read this and want to connect, great!) and to help me set up some kind of template that I can use for weekly WIP updates. The general content areas are: Write with Focus; Read with Purpose; Build Your Community.

Write with Focus

As far as I can tell, there are three very important elements to writing with focus.The first is to write. All the time. Every day, and in whatever fashion. It might mean journaling, it might mean writing craft exercises (like responding to prompts), and it might mean working on a specific WIP project, whether outlining, character mapping, or actual manuscript work. I’ve made some progress on this daily writing component, including jotting down a lot of notes for my upcoming WIP (still in invention stage, but I’m getting there), journaling regularly, and working on craft elements with Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. Soon, I will also start work on the actual WIP, which I will need to schedule into my days, and that brings me to the next part.The second is to control your environment and set the mood for success. This is something I teach my writing students; they must pay attention to their environments, what works and what doesn’t, and make conscious decisions about where and when they are doing their work, and what else needs to happen in that atmosphere (music or other background noise? Lighting? Snacks? Etc.). The MFA guide suggests trying to set an environment and work with it for a while, and then slowly make one adjustment at a time until everything feels “right.” It may last forever, it may need to be adjusted again at some point but controlling the environment so that your mind knows that when it is “x” time and “y” environment is set, that means it is writing time. I have made almost no progress with this component! For weeks, I’ve been setting my alarm to get up early so that I can spend two hours of my morning writing, before any of the other pressures/responsibilities of the day start to move in. And for weeks, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night and turning the alarm off. I’m not sure if morning writing is for me (in fact, I’m positive that I write best at night), but given the nature of my daily life, I feel like I have to find a way to make this work because, otherwise, my own writing just won’t happen. I’ll get caught up in everything else that I need to do, including my profession. I do at least have some ideas in mind about what my writing situation will look like. I have a private room. I have a desk set up with my row of writing-related texts facing front and center. I have my notes and ideas books nearby, and a candle to light to trigger the “mood.” I think I’m most of the way there. What’s keeping me from starting? At first, I figured it was laziness or the fact that I have severe insomnia. Since I get very little sleep, it’s extremely difficult to get up earlier than absolutely necessary; but there’s the kicker: I have to recognize that getting up to write is necessary, just like every other necessary part of my day. I have not made that turn yet.The third component to writing with focus is understanding the process. Even as a professional writer and writing instructor, I fall prey to the idea that if I can’t get it “right” right away, then I must be doing something wrong. I KNOW this is utter nonsense. I spend hours every week reassuring my own students that they are not failures for trying and that, in fact, the only failure is in not doing anything at all. So, to write with focus, I need to remind myself that a first draft is just that – a dump. A place to get everything out. Then the fixes come in, and I can and should take those fixes one at a time, focusing on one particular element and then another and then another, rather than doing a line-edit approach to the entire thing. This MFA program is giving me clear ideas of how to strategize the revision process so that it makes sense and so that, ultimately, I revise the most critical elements first, leaving each subsequent phase a little less demanding. These are some tips I would not have realized had I not begun this focused study.

Read with Purpose

The next suggestion from this MFA program is to “read with purpose,” and again there are a few components to this instruction.

Read Your Genre

The first element is to “Read Your Genre.” This is another instruction I found contradictory at first. Essentially, what they mean is that you should read a lot of the genre you plan to write in, be it young adult fiction, science fiction, personal essay, memoir, etc. I had always been under the impression, though, that you wanted to avoid reading your own genre while writing in it because you might be subconsciously influenced by your reading, which could lead to borrowing or copying. I’m still concerned with that, quite frankly, so I think I’ve come up with a way to read within the genre but avoid the possibility for influence. First, most of my pleasure reading during the actual writing of a WIP will be from outside the WIP’s genre. At the moment, for example, I’m working in contemporary fiction of a particular theme, so I’m reading mostly non-fiction (history, philosophy). This keeps my reader-personality satisfied and my brain actively engaged, but limits the potential for me to be influenced by other stories, characters, etc. I might still end up working in some elements of my reading into the WIP, but it would be in a completely different way, such as incorporating a type of philosophical statement or lesson which I would still need to build into the story world or into the character’s development. I’m finding this kind of an interesting, even fun, activity. The other way I’m going about this is to read within the genre when I am outside of the WIP-writing phase. So, during pre-writing or when I’ve put away the first draft and am letting it sit, or when I am working on revisions and edits. Once my own complete work is out, there’s not much chance that I’ll go back and rework entire scenes or characters simply because I’m reading something awesome in another book. This will keep me engaged with my genre (what works? What doesn’t? What’s cliché? What’s novel?) while in the process of writing inside that genre. A final suggestion the MFA program makes, and which I plan to also adopt, is to read in the genre but of other forms. So, for example, if I’m writing a contemporary novel, I can spend my reading time on short stories. This would still let me read for plot, character, story arc, etc., but in much smaller chunks. In this way, I would also be able to see the full development of a story in a single sitting and take it apart for how and why it is working, or not. In many ways, this is beneficial over novel-reading, which takes much longer and cannot be seen in “snapshot” form.

Read the Craft

Another component of reading with focus is to read other writers on the craft. There are a few reasons for this, some of which include the following: continuously engaging in intellectual conversation with other writers through my reading/responses; getting ideas about what has and has not worked for other writers, and trying it all out; learning how to deal with setbacks, apparent failures, distractions, challenges, etc. by seeing what other writers have to say on these subjects; and treating myself as one among these writers who I admire, getting to know them not just as writers but as people who also had/have lives that needed to be lived, responsibilities that had to be kept, etc. This is one part of the process that I have already begun, and it is probably my favorite part (no surprise as a reader who likes to write, I love reading what other writers have to say about writing?). At the moment, for example, I’m reading the MFA craft book as well as Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. I give myself an hour every night with one or the other of these books, including journaling my reactions to them and incorporating notes for my own WIP based on what I’ve read in the craft texts. I have a number of these “on deck,” of various types (from The Emotional Craft of Fiction to Book in a Month to Light the Dark), as I think it is important to look at writing from a variety of angles, whether that be pacing, character, memoir, creativity, inspiration, language, or whatever else.

Read Like a Writer

The final element suggested for how to read with purpose is to read like a writer. The MFA guide shares some helpful tips on how to engage with texts, including writing book reviews (yes!), doing short critical analyses of small portions of the texts, responding to entire genres after reading many texts within them, or responding to a favorite author’s corpus after reading much of it. All of these strategies are interesting and helpful in different ways, and I plan to try them at varying points. Some, like responding to a genre or to an author’s corpus, will be much longer projects taking quite a bit of time, but they certainly seem like valuable pursuits to me. I write book reviews regularly, of course, so that will remain a staple. And I spent 9 years of college and graduate school writing critical analysis papers on literature, so while I’m not exactly “eager” to return to the student role, I do understand and respect the benefits of doing this and, who knows, I may come up with some interesting essays that can move beyond my own little journal.

Build Your Community

The third and final element of “living like a writer” is to build a community that will fulfill the needs of Critique, Accountability, Support, and Advice or Apprenticeship. I don’t really know where to begin with this part, yet. I’m not sure if I would work best with an online community of writers or a local, in-person group. I don’t know who to ask or how to work with them. I’m essentially nowhere with this component, unfortunately, but I know that as I get further into my work, I’m going to need this. So, if you’re a writer reading this right now and you, too, are looking for a writing community, perhaps we can become that for each other. Taking all of this into consideration, the next step is to come up with a way to hold myself accountable and to track (and applaud or reassess) my accomplishments from week-to-week. I have a “Goal Sheet” which is provided by the DIY MFA book, and that I think will serve my purposes pretty well. Ultimately, I hope to write 6 days a week (is that too much? Too little? I have no idea.) Each day will carry a goal of 2-hours writing and/or 4-pages (is this too much? Too little? I have no idea!). The way I plan to respond to each writing session is as follows:

  • Date:
  • Input Variable:
  • Words:
  • Time:
  • How It Felt:

Most of those should be pretty self-explanatory, but a note on “Input Variable.” This is something I mentioned above, regarding “controlling your environment.” This is something that might change after a few weeks’ of trying it. For example, writing at home versus writing somewhere public. Writing in the morning versus writing at night. Writing with music versus without, etc. It is important to set the environment intentionally and then, every so often, make a change if the current environment is not working (but make just one change at a time, and try it for at least 2-3 weeks before changing again).My plan now is to post once per week with the above WIP Goal Sheet. At the moment, I’m thinking of referring to it as simply “Writing Reflection.” I might also keep a spreadsheet of this information on my computer for easy access and filtering/sorting. The public accountability aspect is apparently important, though, so as I set goals and make progress, accounting for that process, for the misses, for the lulls and the over-achieving days, will be part of the “Weekly Writing Reflection.”

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Book Review, Classics, E.H. Gombrich, Fiction, Historical Fiction, History, Mario Puzo, Non-Fiction, Potpour-reads, S.E. Hinton, Young Adult

The Outsiders, The Godfather, and A Little History

In this fourth “potpour-reads” post, I put together some thoughts on three classics, including two works of fiction and one of non-fiction. The first fiction classic is classified by Penguin as a “modern classic” and is sometimes categorized further into “young adult,” although I don’t think that is necessary. The second fiction classic is notoriously known for being simultaneously the author’s least successful stylistically but also the most successful commercially. Finally, the non-fiction classic is an adult adaptation of a history book that was originally written for children, then updated many years later. Each of these books was read in June, 2018, and the covers shown are for the editions that I read.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

This is a book that I have had on my “TBR” shelf for probably 20+ years. I honestly have no idea what took me so long to read it, especially considering how many people love it. Perhaps that was part of my apprehension, actually, because who wants to be “that guy” who hates a book everyone else finds so amazing? Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case. The story takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1965. At the heart of the story is its narrator, Ponyboy Curtis (yes, that’s his real name) whose parents have died and left him and his elder brother Sodapop in the care of their eldest brother, Darry. The three teenagers are members of the lower-working class and belong to a type of gang called “Greasers.” Their rivals are the wealthy gang from the better part of town, called the “Socs” (short for “Socials”). One of the more gripping elements of the novel is the intimate look at family and friendship, and especially the way that young men take care of each other when they have no parents or guardians willing or able to do the job. The boys often refer to each other with terms of endearment usually restricted to romantic partners, which provides insight into how close they are and how much they would be willing to risk for one another. They are “boys,” though, and masculine stereotypes abound: duty, honor, manhood, etc. These “values” get the young men into plenty of trouble, from gang fights to murder, to a questionable suicide. What makes the almost clichéd nature of it all (a girl named “Cherry”?) worth it is the complexity of character that so many of the Greasers have, especially the sensitivity of the poet and the artist, Ponyboy and Johnny. By the end, almost without realizing it, I had begun to root for these kids, just as many of the townspeople do. This is a book that has certainly “stayed gold” after all these years. (I’m killing myself after learning that Hinton wrote the book when she was in high school and published it when she was 18 – my god!)

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

This is another book I have been meaning to read for years, ever since I discovered that it was a book and not just a movie. The Godfather trilogy is my favorite film series of all-time; so, much like The Outsiders, I suppose I was subconsciously reluctant to read it because I wondered if it would withstand my close scrutiny. I mean, I basically grew up on this movie! Unlike The Outsiders, though, Mario Puzo’s book was just “okay,” for me. It is one of those rare instances where the film really outdoes the original material, and I think a lot of that is thanks to the genius of Francis Ford Coppola and the many incredible actors hired for the film(s). The novel itself is interesting and I did enjoy it, and probably would have even if I weren’t already so familiar with the story. Some of the positives, in fact, include the detailed sub-plots that did not make it into any of the movies, such as the storyline for Johnny Fontaine. At first, I wondered why he was getting so much page time since his character was so insignificant in the film, but the book does more than make it work. I also enjoyed reading this as an American immigrant story. Even though Vito Corleone’s back story does not get nearly as much attention as is provided in The Godfather II, there are enough recognizable bits of it. I was reminded, while reading, that this is one of the few books in college I was assigned to read but never did. The point was to read it as an immigrant novel, and I think having done so (in an academic setting) would have been interesting. Instead, I focused on other things while relying on my knowledge of the film to get me through discussions. Whoops! I did find that the book was fairly well written, though not the kind of evocative prose or description I was expecting. Puzo himself expressed that he wrote this book for money and in desperation, so I’m confident that he would agree with me that this isn’t a stellar work. Still, it’s a good one and it lent itself perfectly for the franchise it would birth.

A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich

This book is, well, how can I put it other than to say, it is darling. Who knew a history book could be precious? As it turns out, Gombrich originally wrote the book in German and for children, and it was a wild success, until World War II happened and the Nazis banned it. Many years later, he rewrote and expanded the book for adults and translated it himself into English for a bigger market audience. One can tell by much of the phrasing that it was originally written for children, but I did not find this a distraction. The history is accurate and thorough enough (though very concise) for an adult reader to appreciate it, and yet there is a strong sense of wonder and awe in the prose and style. Gombrich invites the reader to engage with multiple historical events as they happen concurrently, which has always been my favorite way to approach the study of history (otherwise I can never remember what was happening at the same time as whatever else). In this way, it is one of the favorite pieces of popular history I have ever read. That said, it is clear that Gombrich studied art (his doctorate was earned in art history), because he spends a lot of time focusing on the artistic elements of each event and looking at what was happening in history through an artistic lens. Many of his analogies have to do with art or music. This style might not work for everyone, but it was fine for me. I also appreciated two important features: first, Gombrich writes about the many religions with equal respect and detail. This is really uncommon in many popular histories, and even academic ones, so call it a pleasant surprise! He also treats religion as the historical feature it is, within the context of each culture, yes, but also in relation (drawing the lines between Christ and Mohammed, for example.) I found this beyond helpful, and so fascinating! The second important feature is that he corrected information in previous editions. Where he had made an error, he explicitly pointed it out and amended that information for the new edition. In both ways, he demonstrated a trustworthy ethos–always important, but even more so these days. This is a book that will remain on my shelf permanently.

 

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Blog Post, Essay, Personal, Politics

On Civility

On Civility

“Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.”

― Henry David Thoreau (“On Civil Disobedience”)

Recently, a restaurant owner politely asked Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave the restaurant because her support of this administration’s homophobic and racist policies made some of her staff feel genuinely uncomfortable. Imagine, after all, hearing your own President call your people “rapists” or seeing his justice department argue in court that you don’t deserve the right to be treated equally in the marketplace, and then having to wait on and clean up after the woman who reports that information to the world.

The backlash from media pundits and republican leaders was swift, and even the President of the United States thought this civil request, following his own Supreme Court majority’s decision to deem it Constitutional for a bakery to refuse service to gay patrons on religious grounds—so despicable as to tweet lies about the restaurant’s supposed dirty/unsanitary conditions in retaliation. In response, Congresswoman Maxine Waters made it clear that any member of an administration that makes telling lies commonplace and that holds equal justice in contempt, should be prepared to face public consequences, such as protests.

Conservative politicians and main stream media, and even many prominent democrats, responded by sharply criticizing Representative Waters’ position and by calling, in some cases genuinely but in most cases opportunistically and hypocritically, for a “return to civility.” Such civility was demonstrated by President Trump and conservative actor James Woods, for example, who responded to Maxine Waters by calling her “low IQ” and threatening that she had better “watch out” (Trump) and by telling their followers to go out and “buy guns” because the war is coming (Woods). Oh, to find such practitioners of civility in our body politic, guiding the way for all of us.

The reality is, this group has no real desire for civility except from and only from the other side. What I mean is, these are the perpetual “victims” who tell themselves, and each other, that they are constantly under attack and therefore it is their right, their responsibility to fight by any means necessary; and yet, when anyone rebuffs them even in the slightest, most harmless sense, they cry foul. These are the bullies. These are the manipulators. These are the people, from Fox News and the Trumps, from the Huckabees to the father of it all, Newt Gingrich, who must have everything their way at all costs, who refuse to acknowledge the valid opinions—even the humanity—of anyone unlike them, and who created and perpetuated our culture of fear and divisiveness and now wish to sit comfortably in their power while claiming continued victimhood. They are, after all, in control of the Presidency, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and more than half of U.S. Governorships and State Legislatures, and yet they think they are being oppressed.

We have seen this kind of behavior in society and politics throughout history. We know that authoritarian governments rise by preying on peoples’ fears and doubts, by othering easy targets, like the Jews, the blacks, the Mexicans, or the gays. They lie about their opponents, usually projecting onto the other political party exactly the kinds of things they are guilty of doing, such as being “uncivil.” Take the anti-choice crowd, for example. They stand outside of clinics terrorizing women and men who are consulting medical professionals, a situation which should be wholly private and safe. They get people like Bill O’Reilly, a man with a massive audience, to denounce abortion-performing doctors by name, calling them “baby-murdering Nazis,” night after night on television, until someone shows up at that doctor’s home—Dr. George Tiller–and murders him. Other right-wing conspiracy theorists on Fox News, Breitbart, and InfoWars, such as Sean Hannity, Steve Bannon, and Alex Jones, spout ridiculous stories like the one about a child sex ring in the basement of a Washington D.C. pizza parlor, and claim that a former First Lady, Secretary of State, and presidential candidate is a part of it. They say it over and over and over again until someone shows up at that pizza parlor with a gun, demanding to be taken to the “baby sex basement,” only to discover the building does not even have a basement. Not only does republican leadership refuse to denounce these things, but instead, people like Steve Bannon become a part of the President’s staff, working in the Oval Office. And people like Sean Hannity speak to the President on the phone every night. Is this civility?

After republican leaders stand by, and base republicans vote for, a man who openly mocked a disabled reporter; when republican leaders and base republicans stand by a President who calls NFL players exercising their first amendment rights to peacefully protest, “sons of bitches”; when republican leaders stand by, and base republicans vote for, a man who calls Mexicans “rapists and murderers”; when republican leaders stand by, and base republicans vote for, a man who brags about sexually assaulting women and using his power to keep them quiet; when republican leaders and base republicans stand by a President who refers to cross-burning, Nazi- and confederate-flag waving, crowd-attacking white supremacists as “very fine people”; when republican leaders and base republicans continue to support a man who insists all Haitians have AIDS, all “black countries” are “shitholes” and all Muslims are terrorists who should be banned from our country; after republican leaders stood by, and base republicans railed about, “birthirism,” called Michelle Obama a “monkey in heels,” performed public hangings-in-effigy of President Obama; and when republican leaders and base republicans say they “don’t care” about immigrant kids in cages, that we should “stop trying to get [them] to cry about” children who have been torn away from their parents by our government, and that the immigrants are “lucky we didn’t assassinate them,” now. . . now they call for civility. Why? Because the President’s mouthpiece, the one who presents all of this to the world, was asked politely to leave a restaurant. That was civil.

I have to admit, I have always been reluctant to be uncivil. I try to be a kind person, above all else, which makes the idea of civil unrest and confrontation extremely difficult for me. But I realize now, even though I did not vote for this administration and even though I tried to explain to everyone in my circle of influence why I felt this administration would be a disaster for us all, I may have, indeed, been “too civil” about it. I may have been quiet when I should have spoken. I may have wanted to keep the peace with friends and family, rather than stoke a potentially permanent and irrevocable animus. In retrospect, I think I was wrong. That time is over.

  • I was civil after they called him “Kenyan Muslim.”
  • I was civil after they hung him in effigy.
  • I was civil after they called her an “ape in heels.”
  • I was civil after they murdered a doctor for doing his job.
  • I was civil after they mocked the disabled.
  • I was civil after they cheered a “pussy-grabber.”
  • I was civil after they called peaceful protesters “sons of bitches.”
  • I was civil after they allowed a foreign government to influence our elections.
  • I was civil after they called white supremacists “fine people.”
  • I was civil when they chanted, “lock her up.”
  • I was civil when they inserted religion into the state and elevated just one above all.
  • I was civil when they mocked a dying Senator by calling him, “irrelevant.”
  • I was civil when they cozied up to dictators.
  • I was civil when they called our neighbors rapists, murderers, back-stabbers.
  • I was civil when they walked away from human rights.
  • I was civil when they lied about the disaster in Puerto Rico and continued to refuse aid.
  • I was civil and they gutted healthcare.
  • I was civil and they made corporations “people.”
  • I was civil and they came for social security and Medicare.
  • I was civil and they attacked our free press as “enemy of the people.”
  • I was civil and they threatened to end due process and violate international law.
  • I was civil and the First Lady wore an Italian pro-fascist slogan (“I really don’t care”) on her jacket.
  • I was civil and they stole children from their parents, then lost track of them.

Here’s the thing about “being civil,” my friends. There are two types of people who, in environments like these, respond to basically civil protests with calls for civility and decorum: The first is made up of the type of people outlined above, those who call for civility but who have no intention of ever practicing it. They use it as a tool against the very people who do crave a fair and peaceful society for all. The second group is composed of the type who generally agree that something is wrong, but who do not want to “rock the boat” too hard. These folks, like David Axelrod, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer (all of whom criticized Waters, a black woman, for her call to action), tend to be white, wealthy, and politically privileged. So, while they believe they are on the right side of the fight, there is only so much skin they are willing to put in the game. To do more would be to threaten their own basically comfortable place in the world. I think, also, they have not realized or accepted just how much our body politic has changed and just how irrelevant they make themselves with these attitudes about the resistance, which has been incredibly civil (they lied, we marched. They murdered, we marched. They called us godless, immoral, criminals, anti-American, and we marched).

In many ways, with people like Pelosi and Schumer, I am reminded of the scene in The Godfather when Michael Corleone replaces Tom Hagen as consigliere. Michael loved his brother Tom. He respected Hagen, and he knew the man to be brilliant. But Hagen could no longer be effective in the new environment. We need a war-time consigliere. We need to go to the mattresses. Here’s what I believe, now: I can remind kind. I can remain good. But I can no longer continue to be civil in their fashion. As Frederick Douglass wrote, “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters.”

I began with a short quote from Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience,” and I would like to end with one, too. But let us also remember that over the course of history, justice has been won not only by statesmen in board rooms and at tea parties, but by the hard work and persistence of the people. People in the streets. People disrupting injustice. People sabotaging authoritarian plans. People marching, yes, but also people raging, storming, shouting, and standing up, at all costs, until their friends, their neighbors, their co-workers, and the rest of the world could not ignore the cry anymore. Until they, too, recognized the danger and revolted against it. These were people who were told, “if only you could be a bit more civil,” and realized this was a lie.

Bullies will cry foul at the first encroachment into their dominance. If given a concession, they will take more and more and more, until they are stopped. They will not listen to reason because they do not respect reason. They will not be swayed by justice because they believe in only the justice they create and that favors them above others. They will cry for civility because they know the people they are dealing with want civility, desire justice, believe in a moral imperative. But remember: the bully, the dictator, the authoritarian, they do not believe in these things and they will not accept them willingly.

“Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”  ― Henry David Thoreau

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Books

End of An Era: Call for Moderators!

The Classics Club

Screen Shot 2018-06-24 at 7.52.02 PM.pngHello, Clubbers!

After six incredible years, your Classics Club moderators (Adam, Allie, Melissa, and Sarah) are ready to move on to other projects and are in need of a new, passionate, motivated crew of moderators to take over The Classics Club for the next generation.

Are you one of these select few?

What you need to know: The Classics Club is a large community. We have the blog here, of course, but also a Goodreads page, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. We also have a busy e-mail (Gmail) account to keep up with. Ideally, or so far as we discovered, what works best is to have a group of folks who can work on different elements of the blog: each person responsible for a specific monthly feature post, for example; a person who updates the book list; a person who reviews membership requests and updates…

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