201 Night

nightby Elie Wiesel, 1972
translated from the French by Marion Wiesel

This is one of the most affecting pieces of literature I’ve ever read. Elie Wiesel was 15 in 1944 when the Nazis entered Hungary and he and his family were moved into concentration camps. Separated from his mother and sister, it was not long after that he and his father were moved to Auschwitz and Buchenwald, some of the most infamous concentration camps of the war. Wiesel’s treatise is, in a word, harrowing. His short, direct manner of writing (perhaps due in part to the translation) gives a stark portrait of some of the greatest evil known to mankind. Night is an exceedingly difficult book to read and, despite being barely more than 100 pages, was one that I found I could only consume in short bursts. However, it is one of the most necessary books that I have ever had the opportunity to encounter and it is imperative that we continue to read this story and hold this terror close to our hearts.

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198 Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS

blackflagsby Joby Warrick, 2015

One of the things committing to reading prize-winning books has done is force me to read books on subjects I would normally overlook. I would have never picked up the Wayward Children series because it’s fantasy, and I doubt I would have ever gotten around to reading Evicted, even though the subject matter does interest me. Black Flags is another book I would have never endeavored to read, were it not for its having won the Pulitzer Prize, but, in this case, I think I would have been just fine not having picked this one up. Call me an ignorant American, but I only have a certain amount of mental and emotional energy to spend on the world’s ills and ISIS is not close enough to me to make the cut. Don’t get me wrong – to say they’ve committed terrible acts would be an understatement, but I’m more worried about someone walking into the school where I work and shooting up the joint. That’s just the world I live in at the moment. (Is that privilege? Yes. Yes it is.)

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189 Long Walk to Freedom

longwalktofreedomeby Nelson Mandela, 1994

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

“The bold man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

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179 Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

tjartofpowerby Jon Meacham, 2012
narrated by Edward Herrmann*

On to our third president! From the previous two biographies, I’ve gotten the notion of Thomas Jefferson as something of a contentious politician. Having drafted the Declaration of Independence and helped lead the country away from monarchy, TJ was as fierce a proponent of republicanism and anti-heredity as there ever was. His fears that the country would return to hereditary rule was one of his chief characteristics as a political leader and it was the cause of much of his conflict with John Adams. Additionally, Jefferson’s non-political ordeals  – specifically, his fruitful relationship with his slave Sally Hemings – are now a part of the national consciousness and can no longer be ignored. He has always seemed to be a man of contradictions and, in The Art of Power, Jon Meacham presents him as exactly that.

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166 March: Book Three

marchbookthreeby John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell, 2016

It has been some time since I finished the second installment in the March series. At first I wondered why I had put off completing it for so long – I did, after all, rush out and buy all three at full price immediately after borrowing the first one from the library. But, after starting in again, I remembered why: this read was going to be a difficult one.

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121 The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution

dofiby Richard Beeman, ed., 2012

You may wonder why I’m reading this. How can you not know the D of I and the Constitution? you might ask. Sure, I took AP Government like any good high schooler and I’m bound to have studied these documents then, but that was nearly 20 years ago and I’ll be damned if I remember anything other than who my teacher was and who I used to pass notes to. As Richard Beeman notes in his introduction to this first book in the lovely Penguin Civics Classics series, “There is…[a] large body of evidence suggesting that Americans’ knowledge of their history and of the way in which their institutions have worked over the course of history is embarrassingly meager.” And, really, I’m just trying not to be one of those Americans. I had a conversation with a friend recently where I relayed an ignorant comment I’d heard in regards to The Underground Railroad.  The reviewer in question erroneously believed the literal railroad, as depicted in the book, to be true and I wondered how someone could lack that basic understanding of American history. “The question is,” my friend said, “how responsible are we, as people of color, to seek out and educate the ignorant?”

“Is it our responsibility to educate? Or is it their responsibility to seek education?” I countered. “After high school, is not the onus on the individual to educate themselves?”

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114 Washington: A Life

washingtonby Ron Chernow, 2010

I’ve never been much for reading biographies, so when I saw an acquaintance pledge to read a biography for each president last year I thought, that’s nice, but not for me. It wasn’t until I read this Book Riot piece, in the midst of our political upheaval, that I started to understand the reasoning behind the challenge. I, too, have felt woefully uneducated about our country’s history and, if the “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” aphorism has any truth to it – and I believe it does – then I need to learn me some history stat. That’s how I came to decide that I, too, would embark on the challenge to read a biography of each American president and hopefully offer a little less ignorance to the world.

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